Technically, the Toronto Raptors have played 29 home games. Realistically, the Raptors have been on the road for all of their 58 games this season. COVID-19 healthy and safety protocols uprooted the franchise from its home base in Toronto and displaced it to Tampa for the 2020-21 season.
If you count the bubble in Orlando, the Raptors have been on a nine-month road trip. In an unusual NBA season, the Raptors had the most unusual season – 1,335 miles from home, or 2,150 kilometers for those keeping tabs in Canada.
Asked to sum up Toronto’s season, veteran guard Kyle Lowry said, “It’s not possible to be honest with you. Not possible. We miss Toronto. We miss home. We miss everything about that. That part alone is difficult to deal with. “Tampa has been a great city for us. We have fans here. At the same time, they want to see the stars. Tampa doesn’t have basketball so they’re coming to cheer for the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Steph Curry. They want to see the stars play. They don’t get a chance to see them up close and personal. They’re going to root for their favorite players and teams.”
“I wish we were a lot better,” Lowry said. “I’d like to think things would’ve been a little different if we were home.”
“Being able to be around the people who are so nice and friendly and happy to cheer for you,” Lowry said. “Going to some of your favorite restaurants. Going to the stores you are familiar. Being able to drive down the Gardiner (Expressway). Driving the DVP (Don Valley Parkway). Just being able to go to our practice facility, the OVO. Just the normal everyday stuff of walking Bloor Street or walking down University (Avenue) and seeing fans and interacting with them.”
To alleviate some of the home sickness, Destination Canada, Canada’s tourism department, put together a care package curated with the help of Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia: ketchup chips, a hat and patch from Born in the North; Thai siracha sauce from chef Nuit Regular; Coffee Crisp chocolate bars; MakersBars energy bars; gear from OVO; a Nav Bhatia bobblehead; and Nord scented candle.
“The small little tiny things made me smile,” Lowry said. “It made you miss Canada and the amazing-ness of Canada. That’s what the package did for me. You get a taste of things you miss.”
Lowry said once he returns to Toronto, he looks forward to playing golf on some of his favorite courses.
The larger question remains: How much longer will Lowry remain a Raptor? The trade deadline passed and Lowry wasn’t dealt though there had been speculation he was available if the price were right.
Lowry has been a Raptors fixture for the past nine years. It has been a memorable relationship as he morphed into the face of the franchise and the heart of the team.
“As it transitioned, Toronto became the place I called home and the team was there for me, the organization backed me up and the city and country always backed me up. It gave me the opportunity to grow as human being and be able to be happy and proud to represent them the way I have.”
He then helped turn the Raptors into one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, culminating with a championship in 2019. The season is winding down – just a month left – and Toronto’s season in Tampa is nearing the end.
And Lowry’s time as a Raptor might also be coming to an end. Lowry is a free agent this summer, and at 35 years old, he still has something to offer. Will it be with the Raptors?
Asked if he had considered the next time, he plays a game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, he might not be in a Raptors uniform, Lowry paused.
“Good-(expletive) question,” he said. “I can’t answer it for you. I haven’t thought about that, and I don’t want to think about that. When and if the time comes and whatever happens, you can call me back and you can ask me that question again.”