NBA basketball could potentially return to New Jersey for the upcoming season.
Multiple media reports over the weekend noted that officials with the Prudential Center and its parent company, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, have had discussions with the Toronto Raptors about the possibility of playing home games in the upcoming season in Newark, should the Raptors need to find a home court in the U.S. because of COVID-19 concerns.
Officials with the Prudential Center and HBSE declined to comment.
Here’s the issue: Border crossings during COVID-19 rules and regulations are a challenge for professional sports. Canada currently requires a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country. Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, facing a similar situation, played their home games in Buffalo this season. The Raptors are the only NBA team located in Canada.
The Prudential Center is believed to be one of several arenas hoping to land the Raptors. Officials in Kansas City have been openly courting the Raptors. Officials in Louisville, Kentucky, have expressed interest, as well. Buffalo, Seattle and Hartford, Connecticut, also have been mentioned.
There also are talks with arenas that have existing NBA teams about sharing the arena.
But, if the team were to go to a city without an NBA franchise, Newark makes the most sense for a number of reasons, starting with geography.
Toronto is in the same division as the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, and both obviously are located just over the Hudson River. The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics also are in the division.
The 76ers also are owned by HBSE.
There are a number of other issues are regarding a potential relocation that remain up in the air:
- When would games begin? The league’s owners want to start the season Dec. 22 — in time for its annual Christmas Day showcase of games. The players reportedly want to push the season back to Jan. 18, on Martin Luther King Day.
- Would fans be allowed to attend games? On Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy and the state released an administrative order clarifying attendance at professional (and college) games, increasing the number allowed. Whether that increased capacity would include anyone other than hand-selected family and friends would not be known for some time.
- How long would the relocation last? No way of knowing if it would be for the entire season, which is expected to run into next summer. That likely would depend on the continued impact of COVID-19 as well as the potential of any vaccines becoming available.
- How would this work with the New Jersey Devils? This obviously would have to be taken into account, but it’s nothing that the arena has not handled before. The Devils — also an HBSE team — shared the arena with the then-New Jersey Nets for the 2011-12 season.
- Anything else: Scheduling will be a challenge for all involved. The NHL has yet to release the schedule for its upcoming season, which is expected to begin early in 2021.
Regardless of what happens, the idea that the Prudential Center is involved in discussions speaks highly of the city and the arena. The Prudential Center, one of the highest grossing arenas in the country, has consistently shown an ability to draw top acts and events, such as the MTV Video Music Awards in 2019.
The last NBA game played at Prudential Center came on April 23, 2012, when the Nets lost to the 76ers. The last NBA event came a few months later, when the league held its annual draft there June 28.
The New York Liberty of the WNBA played home games at the Prudential Center during the 2011-13 seasons, due to renovations at Madison Square Garden.