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Breanna Stewart rallies support for charter flights in WNBA

Breanna Stewart wears a Brittney Griner jersey during the 2022 WNBA All-Star game. Griner may need to fly privately in the 2023 season due to security concerns. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Breanna Stewart has made the prospect of charter flights in the WNBA key to her free agency negotiations. And she is rallying WNBA and NBA players to her cause.

The WNBA does not allow teams to charter private flights for regular-season games. Indeed, the New York Liberty, who have been linked to Stewart in free agency, received a $500,000 fine for doing just that during the 2021 season.

While the league has made exceptions for some postseason games (for example, the 2022 WNBA Finals), charter flights for the full season are “not in the cards,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ESPN.

A switch to private flights for all 12 teams could cost close to $30 million, ESPN reported. And the league does not want to leave travel up to the discretion of individual teams to avoid competitive imbalance.

For the 2023 season, though, the WNBA could face a conundrum.

Brittney Griner may need to fly privately due to security concerns. The free agent was imprisoned in Russia for nearly 10 months before the U.S. government secured her release in December. She has made clear her plans to play again for the Phoenix Mercury, though she has not yet asked for any travel accommodations, ESPN reported.

Griner’s situation creates questions for the league: Would Griner travel separately from her teammates in the name of fairness? Would other teams be allowed to make similar charter arrangements?

As the WNBA grapples with these questions, Stewart has continued to bang the drum on the issue, sparking a groundswell of support on social media.

“I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA,” she tweeted, indicating her willingness to put her own sponsorship money toward a deal.

Other WNBA players replied in support, including WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike, four-time champion Sue Bird, two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne, former Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu and more. UConn junior Paige Bueckers also replied in the affirmative.

“Look, if they could get companies to step up — I think it would have to be a collective of companies, because $25 or $30 million a year is a big number — but if a bunch of players got a bunch of companies who wanted to help fund this, we’d absolutely partner with the players and talk to them about how it would work,” Engelbert told Sportico.

Ja Morant, who plays for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, tweeted his willingness to help as well, writing, “Count me in.” Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving also voiced his support, telling reporters Thursday: “We’ve got to get something done, and I’m with them no matter how much it costs.”

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar applauded Stewart for bringing the conversation to the forefront.

“Today’s NBA players never had to deal with the effects of commercial travel on their bodies,” Abdul-Jabbar tweeted. “I’m all for WNBA players getting equal rights. Congrats Breanna for raising this issue.”

Stewart has been outspoken on the WNBA’s travel policy before. So have Diana Taurasi, Natasha Cloud, Kelsey Plum and others, many of whom take a step back in the WNBA after flying privately in college.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma joked about bringing Stewart back for an extra year of eligibility after his team’s win Thursday against Tennessee. Stewart replied: “At least I’ll fly charter!”