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Aces GM tweets, then deletes opinion about WNBA travel policy

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 live just a day after the Aces lost their first game of the season, 89-76, against the Washington Mystics on 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 in the second half.

“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 Georgia. But they are still reeling from the first leg of this trip.

The Aces beat the Seattle Storm at home Sunday, but the game was pushed back to 7 p.m. to accommodate ESPN2 . That meant there were no commercial flights available for the Aces Sunday night after the game was pushed back.

Instead, the team flew across country on Monday. Plum admitted she was tired after Tuesday’s game, despite priding herself on being among the 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, including between games, must be premium economy or similar enhanced coach fare, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

In 2018, travel issues caused a game between the Aces and Mystics to be canceled. 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.

‘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 on Tuesday 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 Breanna Stewart, along with teammate Epiphanny Prince, also entered COVID-19 protocols after flying to Arizona to play the Mercury. Stewart expressed her dismay on social media.

“Fly commercial they say…,” she wrote, while retweeting her COVID-19 status.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert estimates it will cost $20 million for all 12 teams to travel on charter flights for an entire 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.

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

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