Thibault apologizes for dig at Lynxs travel issues

    Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Mystics coach Mike Thibault apologized via social media to the Minnesota Lynx and coach Cheryl Reeve after comments he made about their travel issues in getting to Sunday’s game in Washington, D.C.

Thibault said he was “tired of hearing” about WNBA travel delays and that he didn’t feel sorry for the Lynx.

“My apologies to @LynxCoachReeve and @minnesotalynx for my reaction to the question asked of me at my pre-game press conference today,” Thibault wrote on Twitter. “It’s not who I am and I should have just answered the question without the extra dramatics.”

The Lynx played back-to-back games Thursday and Friday in Minneapolis and Indianapolis, then had flight issues Saturday that delayed their arrival until midnight for Sunday’s 3 p.m. tipoff. They lost to the Mystics 70-57.

Reeve said she contacted the league before Sunday’s game when the issues first began Saturday, but no one initially responded. She said when the league finally did respond to the team, it was to suggest alternative flights, which the Lynx had already figured out.

“I’ve been in this league a long time, and if you do this long enough, you’re going to be in these situations,” Reeve said. “I think when it comes down to the challenges that occur, it’s all about leadership and your ability to collectively work through that situation. Probably the greater disappointment was the lack of response. From our standpoint, there was no communication with the Minnesota Lynx. It was an epic fail.

“It was leaked to me later on there was communication with Washington. I alerted the league that we potentially had a problem brewing because I didn’t want them to find out on social media. I don’t think it’s acceptable that I don’t get a response. I can’t control how other people treat us … I thought we deserved more respect than that. We’re not happy that there was no consideration given to us.”

Thibault also was asked about WNBA travel delays before Sunday’s game.

“I’m tired of hearing about them,” Thibault said, while pantomiming rubbing tears from his eyes. “I’m tired of hearing about it on Twitter. It happens to every team. And I get it. Every team would like to get in feeling fully refreshed. But they got here last night. They didn’t play yesterday. I know it’s a long day. But everybody goes through that.”

Thibault then recounted his first year in the league, 2003, when he was coach at Connecticut. The Sun had a game at Cleveland that was cancelled by a blackout that affected many eastern states. The Sun took a bus back to Connecticut, then the next morning took another bus to New York for an afternoon game at Madison Square Garden.

“Nobody felt sorry for us. … and we won,” Thibault said. “We just didn’t talk about it with our players. That’s just life. I’d like to feel sorry for [the Lynx]. But I’m sorry, I don’t.”

Asked about the league contacting Washington about possibly moving the game to Sunday evening, Thibault said, “We have close to a sellout today, and it’s not like they were arriving this morning. I know it was a long travel day; we’ve all had them. We really weren’t in a position to accommodate them unless there was a much more mitigating circumstance than there is right now.”

After the game, however, Thibault made the post on Twitter that he was sorry for the remarks.

Travel issues have become more prominently and frequently mentioned by WNBA players and coaches in recent years. The WNBA flies commercial for regular-season games. The New York Liberty were fined $500,000 for chartering flights to away games during the 2021 season, as it violated league rules.

Charters typically aren’t allowed due to the concern it would create a competitive advantage for teams whose owners can afford them. However, the league in 2019 added charters for playoff games where teams would be crossing multiple time zones with only a day between games.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert also announced prior to the All-Star Game on July 10 that the league would charter all flights for the WNBA Finals beginning this year.

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