Los Angeles Sparks players sleep at Dulles airport after win


Nneka Ogwumike has won a WNBA MVP award, has been named an all-star seven times and has earned a championship ring. After her Los Angeles Sparks upset the Washington Mystics on Sunday while she made a late playoff push, she slept in the airport.

The WNBA’s travel issues came to the fore again when the Sparks were stranded in the Washington area hours after a 79-76 win helped keep their post-season hopes alive.

Ogwumike, the No. 1 draft pick in 2012, took to Twitter early Monday morning as she strolled through Dulles International Airport, documenting a first for the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association.

“Yeah, so we’re roaming the airport,” she said. “The first time in my 11 seasons that I’ve ever had to sleep at the airport. … It was only a matter of time. So half of us sleep at the airport, half of us in a hotel. There were not enough rooms after our flight was delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed and then canceled at 1am. It is now 1:44 and we are here until 9:00 am”

The Sparks were scheduled to leave at 10:30 p.m. and did not learn of the cancellation until 1 a.m., according to a team spokesperson. All players were offered a hotel room, but not everyone made use of the accommodations, according to the team.

The team reached Los Angeles late Monday. The Sparks, who are one game out of the final playoff spot with three left to play, will host the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night.

The lack of charter flights for WNBA teams has long been a point of contention, and players have become more vocal about the issue in recent years. The league doesn’t allow individual teams to charter flights, and the New York Liberty was fined last season when owner Joe Tsai did. Tsai tweeted last year“League says you can’t charter because different owners have different financial situations.”

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Delays and cancellations are a growing problem for all travelers; federal transportation officials said 88,161 flights were canceled through May this year — the second most in the first five months of a year since 1988. The only worse year was 2020 when the pandemic started.

That has led WNBA teams to regularly scramble to arrive in cities for games or to leave afterward. Last month, the Minnesota Lynx arrived in Washington around midnight for a 3:00 p.m. game after their original flight was cancelled, a second had mechanical problems, and the team and staff were forced to split up and take separate planes.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said the league has explored a plethora of options, but without a major sponsorship commitment, charter flights for all teams would be detrimental to the WNBA’s financial health. The union declined to comment Monday.

“Nobody wants this more than me, but nobody has stepped forward,” Engelbert said in June. “No owner, no airline, no corporate sponsors stepped forward and said, ‘We are ready to fund a charter program for the WNBA.’ Everyone would like to, and then they hear the price tag. We keep talking about a [path] getting there – if we can build the economic model, get more corporate sponsorship, get more revenue.

In a statement Monday night, Ogwumike, speaking on behalf of the players’ union, called the WNBA’s travel situation “a serious health and safety concern” and added: “We reiterate our standing invitation to the league and team ownership to work together and identify a manageable solution to this problem…. It’s time to allow teams to invest in charter flights between games, starting with the full 2022 WNBA Playoffs and continuing with common sense, a full seasonal solution from 2023.”

The league announced last month that it will operate charter flights for all WNBA Finals games this season.

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