Senator Tim Kennedy wants to host the Raptors at KeyBank Center if border remains closed

Buffalo

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) and teammate forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (4) celebrate after defeating the Dallas Mavericks in NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–State Senator Tim Kennedy wants to bring professional basketball, albeit temporarily.

Kennedy sent a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri Suggesting KeyBank Center as a home for the Raptors if the US Candian border remains close.

You might remember, cross-border restrictions forced the Blue Jays to move their home games to Sahlen Field this summer. Kennedy says Buffalo has what it takes to host NBA games.

“The fact we had the Blue Jays play here and our community came together in a moment’s notice and were able to host not only this incredible major league team but doing in such short order was a demonstration of what we have as a community,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy adds that Buffalo is a professional sports town, with an NBA fan base ready to welcome a team with open arms.

You can read Kennedy’s full letter below:

Commissioner Adam Silver

National Basketball Association

Olympic Tower

645 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10022 

October 22, 2020

Dear Commissioner Silver,

As a New York State Senator representing the City of Buffalo, I write to respectfully suggest Buffalo as a temporary “home away from home” for the Toronto Raptors in the event that the Canadian Federal Government declines to provide the Raptors an exception to the current ban on cross-border travel between Canada and the United States. As occurred with the Blue Jays in Major League Baseball’s return to play, Buffalo stands ready to roll out the red carpet to help our neighbors in Toronto compete on the world stage.

As you know, earlier this year the Canadian and United States governments mutually agreed to close their land border to all non-essential travel, an agreement that continues to this day. While the City of Toronto and Government of Ontario approved of allowing American teams into the city and province, ultimately the Canadian Federal Government declined to allow an exception. As the home of the Blue Jays’ AAA affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, Buffalo stood ready to work with the Blue Jays to allow them to play at Sahlen Field in Downtown Buffalo. Facilities were upgraded, the city, county, and state governments all cooperated on any issues that arose, and the business community rallied to make the season, ultimately, a success.

I applaud the National Basketball Association for their flawless implementation of a “bubble” concept, allowing the conclusion of the previous NBA season while, remarkably, encountering no positive COVID-19 results. The work you and the league did was admirable and serves as an example to professional sports leagues across the globe. With the previous season concluded, however, it is understandable that the first choice of teams and players would be to return to a travel schedule, allowing teams to play in their home arenas. However, as you know, the US-Canadian border remains closed, and it is possible that the same roadblocks that prevented the Blue Jays from playing at the Rogers Centre could also prevent the Raptors from playing their home games at Scotiabank Arena. I respectfully suggest Buffalo, once again, presents the best choice for a contingency home.

Buffalo’s arena, the KeyBank Center, serves as the home arena of the National Hockey League’s Sabres and the National Lacrosse League’s Bandits. It has hosted rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2017, and is next slated to host the first and second rounds in 2026. In close proximity to the arena, there are several high-grade hotels available, including the LECOM HarborCenter Marriott, the Westin, and the Embassy Suites. The arena, due to being the home of an NHL team, boasts world-class broadcasting facilities that would certainly meet NBA standards. And, as stated before, our city, county, and state governments have experience in cooperating with the temporary relocation of a major league sports team. Additionally, should border restrictions ease mid-season, and were the Raptors to, understandably, desire to return to Scotiabank Arena for the remainder of the season, the physical proximity to Canada would make the relocation of the team, staff, and equipment much easier than any location that would require air travel.

As a fellow New York State native, I am sure that you closely watched our state grapple with our country’s first major outbreak of COVID-19. It is an experience that no New Yorker wants repeated, and important lessons were learned. One of those lessons was the importance of testing. Our state has, week over week, ramped up our testing to be a national and global leader. On March 8th, 307 COVID-19 tests were conducted in New York State. On October 21st, we conducted 135,341 tests, including 8,639 in Western New York alone. We have the capacity to work with the Raptors to help the season move forward.

Beyond the technical aspects that make this a prime choice, Buffalo offers intangibles. We are, in essence, Toronto’s sister city. Countless Buffalonians have fond memories of day trips, long weekends, and extended vacations in Toronto, and we happily welcome our Canadian neighbors here on a regular basis as they come here to shop, cheer on their traveling NHL teams, and enjoy all that our city has to offer. With no NBA team to call our own, many Buffalonians’ first NBA game is a Raptors game on a trip to Toronto. The temporary relocation of the Raptors to Buffalo would only strengthen the regionalization that has occurred for years. We offer, in essence, a natural fan base.

For these reasons, I strongly encourage you and the Raptors organization to explore Buffalo as an option in the event that border controls prevent the Raptors from hosting teams at their home arena in Toronto. Buffalo helped to save the MLB season, and we stand ready to do so again. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Should you have any questions, I welcome your call.

Sincerely,

Timothy M. Kennedy

New York State Senator, 63rd District

Cc: Masai Ujiri, President, Toronto Raptors

Clarence Nesbitt, General Counsel, National Basketball Players Association

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