The unfortunate timing of ‘Champion Airlines’ going out of business might leave two NBA playoff teams sitting on the tarmac.

Things weren’t looking good for Champion Air recently. They were struggling to stay alive during the current economic recession and were barely able to keep up with these record-high oil prices. As the prices continued to increase, the luxury airline announced it will be ceasing operations on May 31st of this year.

No one could be harder hit than Champion Air’s ‘biggest customers’ – the 7-footers on the Los Angeles Lakers’ and San Antionio Spurs’ NBA rosters. Both teams use the airline for all their domestic travel flights.

This realization comes courtesy of CNBC’s Sports Biz reporter, Darren Rovell, who contemplates what this could mean for the playing abilities of these teams. He explains:

…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 easy to imagine the frustration that many passengers felt last month when they were notified of Delta airlines’ flight cancellations due to safety checks, but imagine what 6’11” Tim Duncan would say after being cramped in a coach-class seat for his long flight to LA?

The Spurs are already familiar with major airline inconveniences and Champion Air from last night’s incident after they defeated the New Orleans Hornets in the conference Semi-Finals. Their plane experienced technical problems and was grounded for 5 hours in New Orleans in the middle of the night.

At around 2am, all of the players were told they would need to remain on the plane while waiting for their next departure window at 7am. Apparently there was a large telecommunications conference going on in New Orleans that night, causing there to be no available hotel rooms for the weary basketball players. This news broke to the public via a French newspaper reporter who spoke to Spurs point-guard, Tony Parker, on the plane. I guess all the English-speaking players were keeping quiet about the incident?

I’ve got to imagine the Spurs are pissed at this point. Everyone gets sick of crappy airline food, late arrivals and prodding airport security, but this? Don’t be surprised if you see another Pacers/Pistons-style brawl at the airport in the coming weeks.

CNBC: Lakers/Spurs Could Find Themselves Ground In NBA Playoffs, May 20, 2008

ESPN: Tough Night On The Place For The Spurs, May 20, 2008