Raptors to start season in Tampa amid spiking COVID-19 numbers

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(Reuters) - The Toronto Raptors will begin the National Basketball Association (NBA) season playing in Tampa, Florida, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the team said on Friday.

The league, which wrapped up its previous season in a quarantined "bubble" at Walt Disney World after four months of hiatus, is set to kick off a 72-game season on Dec. 22, with teams this time playing in their home markets.

The Raptors, the only Canada-based NBA franchise, announced the relocation days after officials in Ottawa and Washington told Reuters that the land borders between the U.S., Canada and Mexico would remain closed for non-essential travel at least through Dec. 21 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

"The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil," Raptors President Masai Ujiri said in a statement.

"Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida."

The Raptors, who won the championship in 2019, did not specify which venue they planned to use.

The NBA, which held its "virtual draft" this week, will begin its pre-season on Dec. 11.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Christian Radnedge)