WNBA travel issues resurfaced early for the Washington Mystics and Las Vegas Aces

The Mystics beat the Aces on Tuesday with a dominant force 24-7 in the third quarter to claim perhaps the most impressive win of their youth WNBA season. But before and after the game, the conversation turned to the league’s travel policy.

This isn’t the first time travel has dominated the discourse between Washington and Las Vegas, but at least this time, the game went on as scheduled.

Four years ago, during the inaugural season in Las Vegas, the ace spent more than 24 hours traveling to Washington, a horrific day that included delays and cancellations of flights, sleeping through the night in the Dallas airport terminal, and getting separated from there on the way to a losing DC Las Vegas game. In the end, even after being put off for an hour, the Aces didn’t think they were fit to play.

(Honestly, nothing ever goes according to plan when these two teams play, but we’ll stick to traveling for now.)

The following season, in one of her first acts as a WNBA commissioner, Kathy Engelbert decided to charter planes for the Las Vegas – and Los Angeles Sparks – which were flying cross-country to Washington and Connecticut, respectively. Ice and Sparks were competing in the playoff games Tuesday on the East Coast after both played on the West Coast on Sunday.

At the time, it seemed like charter flights might become a more regular part of the WNBA travel experience. But unlike when New York Liberty secretly chartered flights a year ago in violation of a collective bargaining agreement, the charter planes were only used within the rules once, when Sky and Mercury had to travel between Game 2 and 3 of the 2021 WNBA Finals.

It’s worth noting that the league has played its last three seasons, including the current one, during a global pandemic, making commercial flights more difficult. That’s especially true since the mask’s mandate has expired, with Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud becoming fully aware this week. Cloud was unavailable to play in Tuesday’s game after entering the league’s health and safety protocols, and She blamed a positive Covid test on the commercial flight Mystics took from Minnesota.

Natasha Cloud was not happy about her positive Covid test result and missed her team’s game on Tuesday.
Via @t_cloud9 on Instagram

Cloud’s teammates were able to put up with the slack for her, in part due to fatigue from Las Vegas. The Aces played on their home circuit Sunday night, then traveled all day Monday to get to Washington for a tip on Tuesday. It was a relatively minor process compared to their ordeal in 2018, but flight delays and a full day of traveling across the country left them at less than their best.

“I think I’m the best conditional player in this league, respectfully, and I feel like playing that kind of game against Seattle (Sunday), then getting a five-and-a-half hour late flight, flying cross-country, getting up and playing the next day, I mean, I’ve Tired today,” Kelsey Bloom said after the match. Bloom scored 14 points on a 5 of 8 shot in the first half against the Mystics and 4 points on a 1 of 6 in the second half.

“If you ever watch me play, I can go all day,” Bloom added. “So I don’t think it’s necessarily conditioning because it’s just setting up the schedule. I mean, let’s be real, I mean, I’m not here to blame a charter flight for our loss, but usually the team flies that night, spends that whole day resting and you put your legs back down.” You then go to play the next day. So you know these little things make a difference. Hopefully we’ll be on our way.”

Cloud’s complaint may be a relatively new issue for the WNBA to deal with, but Plum’s is familiar to the league office. After a high-profile game that included 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne’s off-duty 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson and non-squad debutant Katie Benzan with a triple splash, the talk of the game should be about basketball, not Cloud’s absence or Plum fatigue. But instead, players on the league’s travel policy are playing just three games into a condensed schedule that has more games than any of any WNBA season to date.

The 2022 season got off to an entertaining start, from the distinction of the Mystics to the signs of life from Indiana Fever and the rest of the junior class. The league producer deserves celebration, but Tuesday was a reminder that the WNBA still has to do to put the focus on the field rather than off it.

Leave a Comment