Tough Night on the Plane for the Spurs

During a post-game interview last night, San Antonio guard Tony Parker divulged proudly that the Spurs team had packed and was ready to go straight from New Orleans to Los Angeles to spend the night.

Smart move! Coaching legend John Wooden wrote, in his book, that a good night's sleep is very tough to get the night before a big game, because of all the excitement. So, the night before that, in Wooden's eyes, was the crucial one. After a three hour flight, the Spurs should have been in a nice hotel with time to sleep, and more than a day and a half before Game 1 against the Lakers.

However, there was, evidently, trouble.

League sources confirm this report from French radio station RMC, who talked to Parker later in the night (in French) saying the team plane wasn't ready to go, so the Spurs could not, in fact, get to their luxury beds in Los Angeles.

They also, according to this report from Parker, couldn't return to their hotel in New Orleans, as the Crescent City was overbooked, apparently because of a large telecommunications convention.

So, Parker is quoted as saying, the team learned at about 2 am that they would sleep on the plane, and fly at about 7 am local time.

The Spurs use the charter service Champion Air. The flight tracking service Flight Aware shows a Champion Air 727 that matches the Spurs' flight path, and matches the schedule that Parker reported -- departing at 7:08 Central this morning, and arriving in Los Angeles just a short time ago.

Here's a video that includes actual footage of the interior of a Champion Air 727 (and a floorplan) customized for NBA teams. Looks nice, but not all that comfortable for a seven-footer pulling an all-nighter.

And consider this, from TrueHoop in early April:

Todd Bensman, Tom Orsborn and Kelly Guckian of the San Antonio Express-News:

... earthly comforts inside Champion Air jets insulated the Spurs from an unseen gremlin.

The charter carrier has been running its aged jets on a taut financial shoestring while racking up hundreds of safety and maintenance incidents, according to an examination of Federal Aviation Administration records. Now, the carrier has announced it will ground its 16-plane fleet for good May 31, a casualty of financial duress and inefficient, fuel-guzzling 30-year-old planes that compete poorly against newer planes.

League and airline officials said the Spurs will continue flying the airline through the playoffs, which begin April 19, or until further notice. If the airline is financially barren and shutting down, how safe are the Spurs going to be in the air? Aviation experts warn of a dangerous mix when airlines with old planes are cash starved.

UPDATE: Darren Rovell of CNBC has some insight into what may come next for teams that were flying with Champion.