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Aces forfeit game against Mystics after flight delay nightmare

Las Vegas spent 25 hours in plane delays and layover trying to make it to D.C. The team cited health reasons for not showing up to play.

The Las Vegas Aces forfeited a Friday night game on the road against the Washington Mystics, the WNBA announced on Tuesday.

The Aces suffered through several delayed flights in their journey from Vegas to D.C., forcing the team into a sleepless, 24-hour trip to the nation’s capital. WNBA teams fly commercial like you or I rather than flying chartered planes, which explains why they had so much trouble traveling.

“We worked extensively with both the Aces and Mystics to come up with a workable solution,” WNBA president Lisa Borders said in a release. “In the end, given the limited number of days remaining in the season and arena availability, we decided to delay the start of the game until 8:00 p.m. to give the Aces as much time as possible between their arrival in Washington, D.C. and tipoff.

“While not ideal, it was the best available solution to accommodate both our fans and the scheduling challenges. Since the Aces chose not to play, the result is a forfeit.”

In response, Aces president of basketball operations and head coach Bill Laimbeer, according to the Aces, said, “Our entire organization has the utmost respect for the very difficult decision our players made, and we stand with them. We are disappointed with the league’s decision, but our focus is now on winning as many games as we can in our drive for our first playoff appearance.”

The Aces tell SB Nation the team has no intention of appealing the league’s decision.

The Aces said in a release immediately following the game:

Given the travel issues we faced over the past two days,—25+ hours spent in airports and airplanes, in cramped quarters and having not slept in a bed since Wednesday night—and after consulting with Players Association leadership and medical professionals, we concluded that playing tonight’s game would put us at too great a risk for injury.

Naturally, the issue of player safety is of paramount concern for all involved in the WNBA. This issue is bigger than our team and this one unfortunate set of circumstances, and we look forward to being a part of future discourse in the hope of preventing such incidents in the future.

This game had playoff implications for both sides too, especially for Las Vegas which came into the night 1.5 games back from the final playoff spot with eight games left in the season.

“I empathize but I don’t sympathize,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault told SB Nation.

“I talked to [Vegas Aces head coach] Bill [Laimbeer] earlier in the day and they were [in D.C.] Thibault said. “They should’ve showed up. It’s that simple to me. Every team in every sport goes through a day like this or two days like this somewhere in a one- or two-year period. It happens. It’s happened to me in this league several times, the NBA, the CBA. There wasn’t a snowstorm, they got here.

“So your obligation is to play. Everybody gets tired. For them to say they were tired... shoot... we played this year in Seattle on a back-to-back after we played in L.A. It was a 4 o’clock in the afternoon game in L.A., it was a 4 o’clock game in Seattle, we took a red-eye and got to the hotel at 4 o’clock in the morning. We were tired. But you play, that’s part of what you get paid for.”

The Mystics offered to refund fans’ tickets, and that’s a loss in the money column for Washington.

The Aces did have a long journey.

The team tried to fly out of Las Vegas at 1:13 p.m. on Thursday for the Friday night game, but saw a series of delays that didn’t end in a cancellation until after 10 p.m. The team flew to Dallas that night and didn’t land until roughly 5 a.m. CT.

Here’s how the team slept in Dallas:

From Dallas, no flights could hold the entire team. Three separate flights took the players, coaches and PR members to D.C. Coach Bill Laimbeer took a separate plane with a layover in Charlotte, the players took another commercial flight, and assistant coach Vickie Johnson and Director of Media Relations John Maxwell took the third and final plane.

Maxwell estimated the team was set to arrive around 2:30 or 3 p.m. ET to Washington, arrive at the hotel by 4 p.m. and have very little time to gather their belongings and prepare for an 8 p.m. ET tip-off.

“I think it was pretty unprofessional,” Mystics All-Star Kristi Toliver told SB Nation. “It’s disappointing for our fans, for our league to forfeit a game. Everybody’s been delayed. We dealt with it this year, it’s just life, it’s how it is. But you still have to show up to work.”

Several players from the Aces including Rookie of the Year-favorite A’ja Wilson, All-Star Kayla McBride and former No. 1 pick Kelsey Plum voiced their frustrations on Twitter throughout the duration of their trip, but haven’t spoken publicly since the game’s cancellation.

“Player health is the most important thing,” McBride said on Twitter at 8:42 p.m. Thursday night. “Our schedule is already so compact this year. Now you want us to travel all night with a stop and compete? #notToday #notEver”

“Like we have really been here at the airport since 11am,” Wilson said ten minutes later, “and it is now almost 6 pm.....and we are expected to play at a high level tomorrow ...”

The Aces will turn around and play another road game on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET in Connecticut.