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Lakers/Spurs Could Find Themselves "Grounded" In NBA Playoffs

Picture this: After five games, the Los Angeles Lakers are up on the San Antonio Spurs three games to two in this year’s Western Conference Finals.

Two jets fly the Lakers and Spurs from Los Angeles back to San Antonio for Game Six. But that airline won’t be able to take them back to Los Angeles for the final game should the Spurs prevail.

Why? Because Champion Air, the charter airline that flies 14 NBA teams--including both the Spurs and the Lakers-–is going out of business on May 31, the same day a Game Six would be played.

Champion Air
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Champion Air

That means that the NBA will have to find a replacement for Champion, whose contract was supposed to expire at the end of the season, but must discontinue service due to the economic slowdown, the tight credit markets and $130 a barrel oil.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass told me that they are currently reviewing their options, including have the teams fly with a major carrier (not commercial) or perhaps a well-known charter service.

Champion was an ideal charter service for the NBA because six of its planes were fitted to have only 59 seats, all first class. But it’s got to be uncomfortable now.

It’s one thing if an airline files for bankruptcy and continues operating like United and Frontier, it’s another thing if an airline is ceasing operations like EOS, Maxjet, Aloha, ATA and Skybus.

I don’t think I would want to be on one of those flights, let alone the precious cargo that makes up the Spurs and the Lakers.

The San Antonio News-Express reported last month that these planes had an unusual amount of incidents though Champion Air challenged the findings. All I know is that these planes are 727’s – which means that the youngest this model plane can be is 23 years old.

Fourteen NBA teams flew this year with Champion Air, which started as MGM Grand Air. These teams will fly specially-fitted Northwest planes next year.

Update: Henry Abbott of ESPN.com's TrueHoop is reporting that the Spurs plane was grounded last night after they beat the New Orleans Hornets. According to the report, the Spurs slept on the plane. Sources have confirmed this report. The plane had mechanical problems. Another plane was sent.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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