Kansas City mayor ready for possibility of hosting Raptors for 2020-21 season

Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3), guard Norman Powell (24) and the bench react during a timeout in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)

TORONTO — Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas has been in talks with the Toronto Raptors to potentially host the team should they be unable to play next season at Scotiabank Arena due to the Canadian government’s COVID-19 rules — the same rules that recently forced the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto FC to find new homes to complete their campaigns.

Lucas confirmed in an interview with Sportsnet on Thursday that political leaders from the states of Kansas and Missouri wrote a letter to both NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Raptors ownership group Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment expressing interest in hosting the club temporarily for the 2020-21 season.

The mayor said there’s been mutual interest between his city and the Raptors themselves, although the latter’s primary focus still lies in figuring out a way to play their games at home in Toronto and will only look for a home-away-from-home if necessary.

“Thus far, I think we've received a response that the Raptors are continuing to work with the NBA, with the federal government in Canada and the federal government in United States to try to first, as a priority, be able to play in Toronto,” said Lucas. “And so I know that continues to be their preference. We're just trying to make sure that we're an option in the event that they'll need us.”

The idea of the Raptors playing their games in Kansas City picked up steam when, on Monday, Kansas City Chiefs superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes tweeted in support of housing the team, which led Lucas to respond that he was already “working on it.”

“We were already moving on it, thinking about it, talking about it and reaching out, but Patrick Mahomes, one of the most famous athletes here in the United States — having him lend his hand has been supportive,” Lucas said. “Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had some positive commentary about Kansas City as a sports town and our efforts with the Toronto Raptors. And so I think all of those suggests for us that there were good reasons for us to try to move ahead.”

Another good reason for Lucas to try and move ahead with the possibility is the advertisement it would bring to his city, something he fully admits.

“You know, I think a few different things: one, you always want to be a city that's in conversation in the world,” Lucas said. “I think professional sports, I think cultural entertainment venues really make a difference for what people know about a city. I think Toronto is one of the greatest cities in North America. But I know them even better from watching Raptors games and seeing the fan base, the excitement that surrounded them. We want a bit of that. It's really that simple.”

And if Kansas City is able to showcase itself as a good spot for the NBA once again, that’s an added bonus for Lucas, too.

“Of course, not unlike Oklahoma City some years ago, we want to have an opportunity to show a brand presence that (indicates) Kansas City is an impressive international city in its own right. And in the event that there's ever talk about relocation, then we should be at the top of the list for any other teams. I don't think that you'd ever see relocation for the Raptors, but, you know, maybe there'll be others in the future.”

It's been 35 years since the Kansas City-Omaha Kings moved from there to Sacramento and it would seem as if Kansas City would like professional basketball to return in some form. According to Lucas, the city has a facility in the T-Mobile Center to make it happen, too, an arena that has annually held the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament since 2010 and has a basketball seating capacity of 18,972.

“We’ve kept it pretty impressive,” Lucas said of T-Mobile Center, making reference to the fact that the facility wouldn't need additional refurbishment to make it NBA-ready. “We've put millions of dollars in it — actually over just the last few months as things have been closed down. That's something we're very proud of and we think that an NBA team could come in and play a game tomorrow – it has great clubhouse facilities.”

A ready-made facility and a very welcoming host sounds like a pretty good option for the Raptors if they need to find a place elsewhere to play next season, but there is the issue that the city is far away from the team’s divisional rivals in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, with close to three hours of flight time required from Kansas City to those locations.

Additionally, it isn’t like Kansas City is the only team in the running to potentially host the Raptors temporarily. Buffalo’s Common Council has recently supported a request to the NBA to allow the Raptors to play in their city, coming on the heels of doing just that with the Blue Jays.

There was also the report of Louisville being a possible destination, although that doesn’t appear to be as concrete as the rumblings out of Kansas City and Buffalo.

Either way, as Lucas stated, the Raptors’ priority right now is to find a path to play at home in Toronto; however, a decision on some of these other potential hosts that appear willing and able to help the team out may need to be resolved soon with reports swirling that the NBA is looking to start next season close to Christmas.

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