Los Angeles Sparks players sleep at Dulles Airport after their win

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

The WNBA’s travel issues were once again brought to the fore as the Sparks were stranded in the Washington area hours after a 79-76 victory helped keep their playoff hopes alive.

Ogwumike, the first draft pick in 2012, took to Twitter early Monday morning as she strolled through Dulles International Airport and documented a first for the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association.

“Yeah, so we’re running through the airport,” she said. “It’s the first time in 11 seasons that I have had to sleep at the airport. … It was only a matter of time. So half of us sleep at the airport, the other half at the hotel. There weren’t enough rooms after our flight was delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed and then canceled at 1am. So it’s now 1:44 a.m. and we’re here until 9 a.m.

The Sparks were scheduled to leave at 10:30 p.m. and didn’t learn of the cancellation until 1 a.m., according to a team spokesperson. All players were offered a hotel room, but not everyone took advantage of accommodation, according to the team.

The team returned to Los Angeles late Monday morning. The Sparks, who are one game out of last playoff spot with three to play, 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 been more vocal on 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“The 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 had been canceled this year through May – the second highest number in the first five months of a year since 1988. The only worst year was 2020 when the pandemic started.

This has left WNBA teams regularly scrambling to arrive in cities for games or to leave afterwards. Last month, the Minnesota Lynx arrived in Washington around midnight for a 3 p.m. game after their original flight was canceled, a second suffered mechanical problems and the team and staff were forced to part ways and to take separate planes.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league has explored an abundance of options, but without a major commitment from a sponsor, charter flights for all teams would hurt the WNBA’s financial health. The league declined to comment on Monday.

“Nobody wants it more than me, but nobody stepped forward,” Engelbert said in June. “No owner, no airline, no corporate sponsor has come forward and said, ‘We are prepared to fund a charter program for the WNBA. Everyone would like, then they hear the price. We will continue to talk about a [path] towards that – if we can build the business model, get more corporate sponsorship, get more revenue.

In a statement late Monday, Ogwumike, speaking on behalf of the players’ union, called the WNBA’s travel situation a “serious health and safety issue” 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 entire playoffs of the 2022 WNBA, and continuing with a common sense solution for the entire season starting in 2023.”

The league announced last month that it would provide charter flights to all WNBA Finals games this season.

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