Nneka Ogwumike has won a WNBA MVP award, been named an all-star seven times and has a championship ring. After her Los Angeles Sparks upset the Washington Mystics on Sunday night while trying to make a late playoff push, she slept in the airport.
The WNBA's travel issues were, once again, thrust to the forefront as the Sparks were stranded in Washington hours after a 79-76 victory helped keep their postseason hopes alive.
The 2012 No. 1 overall pick took to Twitter early Monday morning as she strolled through Dulles International Airport and documented a first for the WNBPA president.
"Yeah, so, we are roaming the airport," Ogwumike said. "First time in my 11 seasons that I've ever had to sleep in the airport. … It was only a matter of time."
"So half of us are sleeping in the airport, half of us are at a hotel. There weren't enough rooms after our flight got delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed and then canceled at 1 a.m. So it is now 1:44 and we're here till 9 a.m."
The Sparks were scheduled to leave at 10:30 p.m. and didn't find out about the cancellation until 1 a.m., according to a team spokesman. All players were offered a hotel room, though not all players took advantage of the accommodations, according to the team.
The team made it back to Los Angeles late Monday morning. Los Angeles, which is one game out of the final playoff spot with three games to play, will host Connecticut on Tuesday night.
The lack of chartered 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 does not permit individual teams to charter flights and the New York Liberty was fined last season when Owner Joe Tsai did so. Tsai tweeted last year, "League says you can't fly charter because different owners have different financial situations."
Delays and cancellations have been a growing issue for all travelers as federal transportation officials said 88,161 flights were canceled through May - the second-most in the first five months of a year since 1988. The only year worse was 2020 as the pandemic began.
That has left WNBA teams regularly scrambling to arrive in cities for games or to leave afterward. Last month, the Minnesota Lynx arrived in Washington around midnight for a 3 p.m. game after an original flight was canceled, a second had mechanical issues and the team and staff were forced to split on to separate planes. That was after playing the second game of a back-to-back in Indiana.
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has consistently said that the league has researched an abundance of options, but without a major commitment from a sponsor, chartered flights for all teams would be detrimental to the league's financial health. The league declined to comment Monday.
"Nobody wants this more than me, but no one has stepped forth," Engelbert told The Washington Post in June. "No owner, no airline, no corporate sponsors stepped forth and said we're ready to fund a charter program for the WNBA. Everybody would like to and then they hear the price tag.
"We'll continue to talk about like a [path] towards it. If we can get build the economic model, get more corporate sponsorship, get more revenue."
The league announced in July that it will provide charter flights for all of the 2022 Finals games.