Players on the Los Angeles Sparks were forced to spend the night in an airport due to flight delays.
The travel woes came as the team fights for a highly-contested spot in the 2022 WNBA playoffs.
Disaster struck for the Los Angeles Sparks this weekend.
Like every other team in the WNBA, Los Angeles travels to and from games on commercial flights. But on Sunday, after wrapping up a four-game road trip with a 79-76 win over the Washington Mystics, the Sparks ran into trouble at the airport in DC.
Their red-eye had been delayed, then delayed again, until finally the flight was postponed until the following morning. Some players and staff members were forced to sleep over at the airport as a result, and assistant coach Latricia Trammell was understandably critical of the accommodations:
—Coach Trammell (@TrammellCoach) August 8, 2022
While the franchise managed to offer the entire team the option to stay in a hotel, as sharpshooter Lexie Brown confirmed on Twitter, some players opted to stay at the terminal due to the quick turnaround Monday morning.
"We are roaming the airport," seven-time WNBA All-Star Nneka Ogwumike said in a video posted to Twitter, with her sister and Sparks teammate, Chiney, walking beside her. "It's the first time in my 11 seasons that I've ever had to sleep in the airport, but based on travel... it was only a matter of time."
"Half of us are sleeping at the airport, half of us are at a hotel; there weren't enough rooms after our flight got delayed, delayed, delayed and then canceled at 1 a.m.," she added. "It is now 1:44 and we're here til 9 a.m."
—Nneka Ogwumike (@nnekaogwumike) August 8, 2022
Though Sunday may have been Ogwumike's first career airport sleepover, it was far from her first run-in with travel issues while playing in the league. For years, delays, cancellations, and other transportation woes have sparked debates across the WNBA landscape as to whether teams should be allowed to charter flights.
By and large, the players, coaches, and fans say "yes." Some of the owners and the league executives, including WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, say "no" — or at least not yet. The WNBA declined to comment on the situation with the Sparks.
As of now, due to rules laid out in the WNBA's 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), ownership groups are not permitted to charter planes for players and staff. Just last year, the league slapped the New York Liberty with a historic $500,000 fine after billionaire franchise owner Joe Tsai flew his team private during the second half of the season.
Players were outraged by the revelation that owners refused a plan to charter flights for every team in the league for a full three years because they feared the athletes would "get used to" the treatment. But some of the less wealthy team owners and Engelbert alike insist that the hefty price tag for charter flights would be prohibitive.
WNBA legend Sylvia Fowles — the league's all-time rebounding leader — cites travel as the "one thing that frustrates me the most" about the league. And first-year Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon argues that travel efficiency "directly affects the product on the floor that you're selling to the public."
In the Sparks' case, it may also have an impact on the result of their season.
Los Angeles is home to one of six teams competing for three remaining bids to the 2022 WNBA playoffs, and one of five with near-identical records. With less than a week remaining in the regular season, each of the Sparks' final three games will be make-or-break for their postseason hopes.
They have one Tuesday night, less than 36 hours after their long-awaited arrival back in Los Angeles. Whether that'll give players enough time to rest, recover, and return to the court ready for battle still remains to be seen.
Read the original article on Insider