TAMPA, Fla. — A bizarre season for the Toronto Raptors has come to an end.
“Obviously a lot of things that happened were out of our control,” Raptors forward Pascal Siakam said after the team’s final game Sunday.
The Raptors were the only NBA team forced by Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions to play away from their home city and forced to find a home away from home.
They played 36 home games at Amalie Arena.
“Tampa was great, but it’s just not Toronto,” Raptors point guard Fred Van Vleet said. “My family enjoyed it. We missed winter. The food is good, the people treated us nice. The facilities that they made, everything, the people in the arena were great.”
But, Toronto missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
“It could’ve been awesome if we could’ve made the playoffs, won a couple of rounds,” Van Vleet added. “It still would not have been Toronto.”
Before the Raptors leave Tampa, the organization had an idea to leave behind a legacy, investing in the community that gave them a home.
“It’s been a season for the books,” said John Wiggins, Raptors vice president for organization culture and inclusion. “We got displaced and needed a home. The city of Tampa gave us one. We’ve always been keen on being contributing members of the community.”
The Raptors made a $350,000 donation to The Skills Center — an organization focused on academic and leadership success for our youth.
“We use sports as a tool,” Celeste Roberts, The Skills Center executive director, said. “We create change through the power of sports. Our goal is really to engage kids in something that they love. Sports is the hook. Through that, we support academics, life skills, social behavior, leadership skills.”
The donation will fund three basketball courts and a multipurpose room at The Skills Center’s new 55,000 square-foot facility, which begins construction this year.
“The more we talked to them we were aligned with them and heard about this facility they wanted to construct,” Wiggins said. “We thought we were going to be here temporarily but wanted to leave a lasting impression, investing in a facility that brings everyone together is the right way to do it.”
“But to be able to leave with that donation to that program is going to be great,” Van Vleet said. “Hopefully it has a lasting impact on the kids. That’s something that we felt like we needed to do as kind of a parting gift.
A thank you from Toronto to Tampa.
“This partnership is going to be a game-changer for our organization,” Roberts said. “Ultimately, it’s going to be a game-changer for the kids that live in this community.”