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Rumour: Raptors could play 2021 home games in... Louisville?

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Much is still to be worked out for the NBA next season. One main sticking point: how to deal with the league’s lone non-American team, our Toronto Raptors.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

It took a few hours for this news to bubble to the surface on social media, but Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill’s catch-all column does address quite a few NBA ideas heading into the 2020-21 season. Among those matters is the fate of the Toronto Raptors who play their home games across a border that is, as of this writing, only open for what’s deemed necessary travel. While I’m confident the NBA and Raptors management could talk their way into an exception, it’s probably for the best if teams aren’t flying back and forth between Canada and America right now thanks to the still raging COVID-19 pandemic.

As Goodwill notes, an international travel pass did not happen for the Blue Jays in Major League Baseball, who moonlighted in Buffalo, or for Toronto FC of the MLS, who were kicking the ball around in East Hartford, Connecticut. We also know the NHL moved operations fully into Canada to get their season and playoffs done (though what they’ll do next season is a question mark too). So where does that leave the Raptors?

According to Goodwill, one city that’s been discussed: Louisville, Kentucky.

Yes, that’s a bit of a random selection, given that it’s a place not anywhere close to the Canadian border, with minimal connection to the city of Toronto in any meaningful way. It’s also bizarre to consider sending an NBA team into Louisville, in effect rewarding them with some local basketball action (even if no one can be in the arena to watch) after the callous injustice of the Breonna Taylor verdict, which many players spoke out against. This does not strike me as a city the NBA should be engaging with if they’re serious about even the optics of social justice reform (to say nothing of defunding and abolishing the police).

Nevertheless, according to Goodwill, former player (and one-time NBPA president) Junior Bridgeman has made it know that the arena know as the KFC Yum! Center is ready and waiting for the Raptors. To this suggestion I’ll add on a lighter note: no way is Kyle Lowry playing in a place called the KFC Yum! Centre. Come on.

Political commentary and jokes aside, the question here remains an open one. If things remain as they are today, the Raptors will need a home arena outside of Canada to make any sort of NBA travel plans possible. As Goodwill goes on to speculate, this isn’t Louisville jumping the line to get an expansion team — Seattle is still first in line there — but it does get the ball rolling on potential alternatives, and Kentucky is apparently more inviting than some of the other options. (Friend of the site Dan Grant has suggested Las Vegas as a more likely home for the Raptors than Kentucky, but who can say.)

To follow on that, there’s mention of sharing an arena with another team, which is possible, but only really works if the Raptors find a home near some transplanted fans. We know Toronto fans travel, but they can’t (and shouldn’t!) make moves during the pandemic. To get some of that home cheer it there, it makes sense to try and find the Raptors a spot to play in a northeast metropolis (Detroit, New York, Chicago, etc.) with an arena or two that can be used in the interim. That’s the final assessment in Goodwill’s column — and I’ll second it.

Now we just need to start officially referring to it as “the 2021 season” since it sounds increasingly likely we will see no more NBA basketball in 2020. As per Goodwill’s report, it looks like the NBA will be forced to push for a January 18 start date to coincide with Martin Luther King Day in the U.S. While he still mentions Christmas Day as an option, it grows less likely as time passes. Of course, as we’ve discussed here before, any delays throw things more and more out-of-joint for a “normal” 2021-22 season. At this point, though, all we can really do is wait and see what kind of handle our national governments get on the virus.