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NHL's Maple Leafs To Buy NBA's Raptors

The NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs said Thursday they plan to buy the NBA's Toronto Raptors, a move that will bring the two last-place teams under one roof when the Raptors' half-built arena is completed.

The deal ends lengthy haggling between the Leafs and Raptors over whether they should build an arena together or construct separate facilities. Fans had worried the teams would face money troubles unless they shared the costs of a single arena.

"Toronto sports fans have been telling us they wanted both of their sports teams to play in one building," Leafs chairman Steve Stavro said. "Single ownership makes all of that possible."

Raptors owner Allan Slaight, who joined Stavro at a news conference, said the deal "makes the most long-term sense."

As part of the deal, the Leafs will get control of the Air Canada Center, which is under construction near Toronto's waterfront. It is due to open in 1999, and will be redesigned to accommodate hockey as well as basketball.

The Leafs also announced they had negotiated with government officials to buy development rights at Toronto's historic train station, Union Station, which is adjacent to the Air Canada Center. The Leafs plan to develop a commercial and recreation complex at the site.

Slaight has been trying to sell all or most of his 90 percent stake in the struggling Raptors since buying out former partner John Bitove in 1996.

The 3-year-old team is last in the NBA's Eastern Conference with a 11-37 record.

The team was unsettled by the departure early this season of former general manager and minority owner Isiah Thomas. Rumors of trades, primarily involving star guard Damon Stoudamire, also have affected the players.

The Leafs, Toronto's most entrenched sports franchise, have long balked at sharing the Air Canada site. Until this week, the Leafs were insisting they would build a new area for themselves to replace Maple Leafs Gardens, built in the 1930s and by far the NHL's oldest arena.

The Raptors' attendance at the cavernous SkyDome has fallen off this season. The Leafs continue to draw well in hockey-mad Toronto, despite standing last in the NHL Central.

Slaight, 66, is owner of Standard Broadcasting, the largest private communications company in Canada. The Bank of Nova Scotia owns the other 10 percent of the Raptors.

All four of Canada's major-league winter sports teams are struggling this season. The Vancouver Canucks are last in the NHL's Pacific, and the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies are 13-36.

The teams' problems include a plunge in the Canadian dollar to record lows against the U.S. dollar.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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