Too much at stake to skip
This is bigger than playoff race
This isn't to diminish the Aces' travel frustration and fatigue during their night-and-day journey to Washington, D.C., last week. Nor to discount the importance of proper rest and diet for maximum athletic performance. Nor to tell athletes not to advocate for their best interests and protect themselves.
But the Aces should have played Friday.
Sure, they were exhausted when they reached their hotel by 3:45 p.m. Friday, with an 8 o'clock tipoff awaiting. There was no way to have normal rest/nourishment/preparation. But thousands of fans were on their way to the game, another team was expecting to play, and the league has just over two weeks left in its regular season with no time to reschedule. And the Aces have a playoff berth at stake.
This franchise died on the vine after 15 years in San Antonio because its ownership group changed leaders and lost interest in the WNBA. Becky Hammon's retirement in 2014 -- when the franchise made its last playoff appearance -- was the beginning of the end.
Fortunately, MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas was interested, and the Stars moved to become the Aces this season. It's a young team with the past two No. 1 draft picks -- A'ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum -- that has a good foundation for future success. Making the playoffs now would be a great steppingstone. The Aces might still make it, but they likely hurt their chances Friday.
Perhaps a bigger goal for the Aces was making a dramatic statement about the challenges of WNBA travel. Thursday, after hours of airport delays, Aces players on Twitter questioned how they should be expected to play well the next night. They already seemed in a frame of mind to not play.
Some of them have been pros for three months. There are players who've been in the WNBA since today's rookies were in grade school, and they all have travel horror stories. No team before the Aces ever declined to play.
The Aces could have made strong points via media and social media, documenting their concerns as part of future collective bargaining negotiations. They could have viewed their travel woes as the ultimate bonding experience for a young team.
And still played the game.
The Las Vegas Aces' decision to not play Friday's game at the Washington Mystics -- something that has never been done before -- was the right choice.
This was a no-win situation for the Aces. Without sleep or a proper game-day routine, they were expected to play one of their most important games of the season at a competitive disadvantage, while putting player health at risk in the process.
By deciding not to play, the Aces put the onus back on the league office to make the tough decision. It was the right move after being backed into the corner by the WNBA after the Mystics announced the tipoff would be delayed by just an hour.
Some think the playoff race is all that matters for WNBA players, but the reality is it's not. At the conclusion of the WNBA season, players splinter off to different countries around the world where their seasons continue, and many will make twice the income they do in the United States. Player health is paramount, and putting that at risk for a single game simply is not worth it in the current WNBA.
It's a tough pill to swallow for fans of the league.
Some ask how the Aces could make the decision not to play knowing that they might be forced to forfeit a game while fighting for the league's final playoff spot. But to view the playoff implications -- Las Vegas' potential forfeit and the Mystics' potential win without having to play -- as the larger picture is missing the point.
The Aces have been at the forefront this season when it comes to publicizing off-court hardships of WNBA players. The faces of the franchise have shown, boldly, that they will not be silent when it comes to advocating for improved and equal conditions for league players.
By choosing not to play, and documenting their experience, the Aces also brought attention to the issues of commercial travel as well as the demanding compacted schedule, which shortens the season by three weeks.
Players want change, and the Aces' position was only further solidified after members of the players' union stood behind them. Though the issues to navigate are murky, the Aces have not lost sight of their desire to spark change.