November 28, 2023

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The Sports Fanatics

WNBA charter flights: How airplanes became the league’s biggest scandal

DiDi Richards lit up when she was asked to identify her favorite non-basketball moment of the 2021 WNBA season.

“Me, off the court, I think would be Napa,” the smiling Liberty guard told the media in late September, though she took issue with the sweetness of the wine, an opinion echoed by the teammate sitting next to her on the podium, Michaela Onyenwere, who immediately nodded at the sound of the word “Napa.” Richards visibly relaxed as she recounted the trip. “Napa was so much fun, though. It was just an opportunity for us to get together as a team and just be beautiful, and you all know I love that. So I was just planning for days what I was going to wear to Napa once they told us.”

After the trip, then Liberty guard Jazmine Jones said the team’s owners “treat us just like they treat the NBA team.”

Or as Sabrina Ionescu asked in her TikTok from the festivities, “Can your owners do this????”

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No, WNBA owners cannot. The Napa trip, over Labor Day weekend, violated the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement, a benefit that vastly exceeded the allowable compensation to players. So, too, did the charter flights Liberty owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai bought and provided to their team repeatedly throughout the second half of the WNBA season, a competitive advantage for New York that led to a league-record $500,000 fine of the team—originally floated by the league at $1 million, reduced on an appeal, itself an irregular process—and the removal of Liberty executive Oliver Weisberg from the league’s executive committee, sources told Sports Illustrated. The league confirmed these details, as well.