Aces general manager Natalie Williams deletes tweet criticizing WNBA travel policy

La comisionada de la WNBA Cathy Engelbert habla antes del draft de baloncesto de la WNBA, el lu ...

Aces general manager Natalie Williams tweeted her way into the middle of one of the WNBA’s most controversial topics Wednesday.

In a now-deleted post on her twitter account, Williams expressed her frustration with the WNBA’s schedule and lack of private charter flights. The tweet also called on a few famous athletes, companies and celebrities to help the WNBA pay for charters — specifically LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Elon Musk.

Williams refused to comment on the tweet when contacted but it ripped open a scab on a years-long open wound in the WNBA.

Her tweet went online just a day after the Aces lost their first game of the season, 89-76 against the Washington Mystics, Tuesday. Guard Kelsey Plum and forward A’ja Wilson mentioned travel fatigue as a factor in the team’s poor performance, as the Aces blew a 13-point lead after a dramatic second-half collapse.

“Those little things make a difference,” Plum said.

Planes, trains and automobiles

The Aces continue their road trip Friday at 4:30 p.m. when they play the Atlanta Dream at the Gateway Center at College Park in College Park, Georgia. But they were reeling from the first leg of this trip.

The Aces beat the Seattle Storm in an emotional home opener Sunday, but the game was pushed to 7 p.m. to accommodate ESPN2’s schedule. Normally, the team would have flown out to Washington D.C. immediately after the game, giving the Aces all of Monday to recover. There were no commercial flights available for the Aces at such a late time after Sunday’s game was pushed back.

Instead, the team traveled Monday. Additional logistical problems with the team’s bus in Washington D.C. meant players took ride-shares to the hotel. Plum admitted she was tired after the game, despite priding herself best conditioned players in the WNBA.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily conditioning as much as it is the setup of the schedule,” Plum said.

Charter flights have always been a touchy subject for the WNBA. All air travel provided by a team, including between games, must be premium economy or similar enhanced coach fare, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Players have pushed for charter flights for years. In 2018, travel issues caused a game between the Aces and Mystics to be canceled completely. The New York Liberty and owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai were fined a league-record $500,000 for repeatedly arranging charter flights for the team during the second half of the 2021 season.

The Liberty made an unofficial proposal to the league attempting to make private charter flights the default travel option on Sept. 13, 2021, according to SI.com. The Liberty claimed they could get flights compensated for the entire league for at least a three-year period, but the proposal was rejected.

‘Fly commercial they say …

Recent developments have thrust the conversation surrounding charter flights back into the spotlight. The Mystics were missing second-leading scorer Natasha Cloud during Tuesday’s game against the Aces after she was entered into the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols hours before the game.

“Shoutout to the WNBA for flying us commercial during a pandemic,” she wrote in a tweet Tuesday.

A day later, Storm star and former MVP Breanna Stewart, along with teammate Epiphanny Prince, also entered COVID-19 health and safety protocols after flying to Arizona to play the Phoenix Mercury. Stewart expressed her dismay with the league’s travel policy on social media as well.

“Fly commercial they say…,” she said while retweeting the Storm’s injury list that showed her COVID-19 status.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert estimates it will cost $20 million dollars for all 12 teams to travel on charter flights for a whole season.

“So this is something that we’re not going to jeopardize the financial health of the league and be irresponsible about,” she told ESPN in March. “If we can get it funded by sponsors and supporters, great, but that’s not where we are. We do not have that.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.