Los Angeles Times

Sparks are just plain tired

Players vent about a ban on charters that resulted in them sleeping in airport.

- By Thuc Nhi Nguyen

Latricia Trammell tried to settle into her bed for the night. Far from a luxurious hotel room, the Sparks assistant coach was sizing up four faux-leather airport terminal seats with cracked black upholstery and chipped piping around the edges.

“These players deserve better,” Trammell wrote on Twitter at 1:45 a.m. in Washington D.C. as half of the Sparks team spent the night in the airport when their travel plans went awry following a 79-76 win against the Washington Mystics on Saturday.

The WNBA’s struggle with commercial flights entered another round as several Sparks players slept at the airport after their cross-country flight was canceled at 1 a.m. local time and reschedule­d for 9 a.m. Players were offered rooms at several hotels because there was not enough space at one location, but because of the location, late hour and early f light, some chose to sleep in the airport Monday morning.

By Tuesday night, the Sparks were caught sleepwalki­ng at Crypto.com Arena with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance. The team committed a season-high 21 turnovers and got outrebound­ed 40-23 in a 97-71 loss to the Connecticu­t Sun that kept the Sparks (13-21) one game out of a playoff spot with two games remaining.

The Sparks have lost seven of their last eight games, an illfated, late-season slump interim head coach Fred Williams credited to fatigue. Nneka Ogwumike, who finished with 16 points, noted the team’s exhaustion.

“It’s playing with team in mind, not the individual,” Ogwumike said. “When things get hard, sometimes it’s easy to focus more so on what’s going on with my situation and that’s something I think we can be better at in this next game on Thursday and also on Sunday.”

Even before the sleepover saga, Williams said the punishing travel schedule has been one of the biggest frustratio­ns in a disappoint­ing season, along with the constant injuries.

“It’s a part of being a Spark right now,” Sparks guard Brittney Sykes said before the game. “We really don’t give a damn. As long as we got back to L.A. safe and sound, then it is what it is.”

The league’s latest collective bargaining agreement offered improved travel accommodat­ions such as solo hotel rooms and premium economy seats with extended leg room but forbids teams to charter flights because the private trips may create a competitiv­e advantage.

In a statement she drafted at 4 a.m. at the airport, Ogwumike focused on the oft-repeated phrase as a “tired argument that has overstayed its welcome.”

“It has become a phrase that impedes transforma­tional growth across our league,” she continued in the statement posted on social media Monday. “The numbers and the trends suggest that The W is a smart investment with a measurable return. New and emerging ownership groups have demonstrat­ed an ability and eagerness to invest the necessary resources to grow this league in the areas that require it most.”

WNBA Commission­er Cathy Engelbert told ESPN in March that chartering flights for the league during the regular season would cost $20 million, but at All-Star Weekend in June, celebrated the addition of private flights for this season’s WNBA Finals. Ogwumike called for quicker action by allowing teams to charter flights during the entire 2022 playoffs.

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