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Mystics’ game with Las Vegas is canceled when Aces are a no-show after travel woes

Mystics guard Kristi Toliver signs a basketball during an autograph session after the team’s game against Las Vegas was canceled Friday night.
Mystics guard Kristi Toliver signs a basketball during an autograph session after the team’s game against Las Vegas was canceled Friday night. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Friday night’s game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Washington Mystics at Capital One Arena was canceled, the WNBA announced.

An official statement from Aces players indicated health concerns compelled them to make the decision after the team did not make it to the District until Friday afternoon because of travel delays.

“We trust that you know the decision was not made lightly,” the statement read. “There is nothing we enjoy more than playing in front of the most rabid fans in professional sports night in and night out, and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and disappointment that was created for the fans, workers and anyone else who may have been affected by tonight’s cancellation.

“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 our union, and medical professionals, we concluded that playing tonight’s game would put us at too great a risk for injury.”

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The WNBA is reviewing the matter and won’t be making additional comment for at least 24 hours, according to a person familiar with the league’s thinking who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the circumstances. It’s the first time in WNBA history that a game was canceled, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Because the league used the word “canceled” in its official release, it appears highly unlikely, people familiar with the situation said, that the game would be rescheduled. The Mystics almost certainly would protest a rescheduled game because not only were they prepared to play, but the Aces were in town, having landed at Reagan National Airport at about 2:20 p.m.

The Mystics instead held an autograph session for fans already in the arena when the cancellation was announced.

“I’m really disappointed that the Las Vegas players and organization didn’t come to compete,” Washington Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said. “Every team I’ve been around in the WNBA or the NBA or the old CBA goes through this. College teams go through it, and you have an obligation to the fans who paid money to come watch you play. If you’re there and in the city and can play, you should show up and play.”

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A forfeit by the Aces could have a major impact on their playoff aspirations. They entered Friday night 1½ games out of the league’s eighth and final playoff spot.

The start of a three-game road trip began in frustrating fashion for the Aces. Travel headaches — a common gripe among WNBA players who, unlike their NBA counterparts, do not fly charter — were to blame.

In this instance, a flight cancellation in addition to multiple delays had the Aces landing at National Airport about 5½ hours before game time. Tip-off initially was pushed back an hour to 8 p.m. to accommodate the Aces’ travel issues before the game was scrapped altogether.

“At first I was shocked, and then I didn’t believe it,” Mystics forward Monique Currie said. “I thought maybe they would come, but then when Coach came in and told us it was official, kind of still processing it and trying to figure out what it means for the league, where we’re going in the future and what type of situations and issues we have to deal with in this league.”

The Aces’ journey was supposed to begin Thursday with a late-morning flight from Las Vegas to the District. But after a delay that lasted seven hours — during which time players Moriah Jefferson and Lindsay Allen registered to vote on their laptops — the team had to make other plans when its flight was canceled.

The Aces boarded a red-eye to Dallas after midnight with the hopes of connecting to the District on Friday morning. More misery came when the flight out of Dallas was delayed.

Perspective: I’m a WNBA player. Men won’t stop challenging me to play one-on-one.

Players went to Twitter to express their displeasure with the situation, particularly given the importance of the road trip.

“No shoot around. No night of sleep. No beds. No food,” Las Vegas guard Kayla McBride tweeted before the team’s flight took off from Dallas. “Right now we will land in DC at 245pm that has us going straight to the gym bc of traffic and bags . . . and you want us to play? Oh ok.”

The Aces did not show up at Capital One Arena for pregame warmups.

The circumstances are hardly unique to Las Vegas. The Mystics this season arrived at their hotel for a game at Seattle at 3:30 a.m. and tipped off at 4 p.m. the same day.

Thibault also recounted the time as coach of the Connecticut Sun when, during a 2003 blackout, he and his players bused back to their arena from Cleveland, changed and arrived in New York less than an hour before tip-off.

“This is a first for me, so I have not experienced that,” said Currie, a 12-year veteran in the WNBA. “I can’t be in [the Aces’] shoes, and I don’t know how they’re feeling. It’s been a long day for them; I do understand that. The competitor in me, I know that I would have played. But people have their feelings, and like I said, I can’t speak for them.”

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