WNBA general counsel Jamin Dershowitz considered severe disciplinary actions against the New York Liberty ranging from fining the team $1 million to taking away all of their draft picks, to terminating the franchise altogether.
The reason? They chartered flights, which was a violation of the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement, according to an explosive report by Sports Illustrated’s Howard Megdal released on Tuesday.
The Liberty instead was levied a league-record $500K fine.
The WNBA has found itself in the throes of a philosophical revolution. Old-school owners aren’t willing to pour in the kind of money that would make the league a top-rate organization on the American sports scene. Meanwhile, new-school owners like Tsai — who bought the team with his wife in 2019 from James Dolan and moved them from the cramped Westchester County Center to Barclays Center — are ready to take professional women’s basketball to the next level.
“I think what charter flights represent in the world of sports is it gives you a little bit of validation,” Seattle Storm superstar Sue Bird said in February (h/t Megdal). “It’s saying that your league is so successful, it has the finances to charter flights, which is incredibly expensive. There are not many businesses that just charter flights left and right… So I think for a lot of us, it would just be an indicator of that. It’d be an indicator of financial success.”
Well before Joe Tsai called the WNBA on Sept. 13, 2021, claiming that he could get such methods of travel comped for three years, he chartered flights for each of the Liberty’s road games during the second half of the season after a travel issue in July.
Tsai’s offer of a three-year charter deal, however, was refuted by the WNBA, who reached out to amNewYork.
“At no point was there a New York Liberty proposal for the WNBA Board of Governors to consider offering three-years-worth of charter flights for WNBA teams,” a spokesperson told us. “It was agreed that the Liberty would explore opportunities regarding charter flights and present it to the Board. To date, that has not happened.”
After word got out and the Liberty were suddenly facing league discipline, Tsai continued to champion for the cause.
“League says you can’t fly charter because different owners have different financial circumstances,” he tweeted on Oct. 1. “I’m working with Commissioner [Cathy] Englebert to find a charter sponsor. Conversations with airline CEOs going well. They get the idea of equity for women athletes.”
AmNewYork reached out to the Liberty, but the team declined to comment on the report.