MAYA MOORE

“Maya Moore is the greatest winner in [the] history of Women’s Basketball — and[the] best is yet to come.”

— -Time Inc. Sports Illustrated Group, December 5, 2017

“All Maya Moore does is win.”

— -WNBA, October 9, 2017

Maya April Moore was born on June 11, 1989 in Jefferson City, Missouri making her 30 years old. She is a professional basketball player for the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and is presently on sabbatical. She is in her basketball prime and in the prime of her life.

To Moore, life is bigger than basketball and humanity is life.

But let’s start closer to the beginning.

Born in Missouri but making her basketball bones in Suwanee, Georgia Moore became an elite player early and she was a top student. At Collins High School in Gwinnett County she was a four-year starter on Eagles teams which compiled a miraculous 125–3 record. She was a USA Today Freshman and Sophomore All-American selection and as a junior in 2005-’06 when she posted points, rebounds, assists and steals numbers of 23.2 / 11.3 / 4.6 / & 5.4 respectively she was named the Naismith Prep Player of the Year, only the second junior ever to win the award. (Candace Parker in 2003 was the first; both Parker and Moore repeated as seniors).

Her senior season was even better. Moore averaged 25.5 points and 12.1 rebounds (though her assists and steals totals declined slightly from the year before — 4.0 assists and 4.3 steals). She led Collins High to four consecutive state championship appearances winning thrice culminating in the 2007 National Championship. The 2007 Miss Georgia Basketball and three-time Georgia 5A Player of the Year, Moore finished as Collins High School’s all-time leader in points (2,664); rebounds (1,212); assists (407); and steals (467). Following her senior campaign, Moore was named the 2007 WBCA National Player of the Year; the 2007 Parade Magazine All-America of the Year; and the 2007 Morgan Wooten Award Winner presented to the McDonald’s All-America Player of the Year.

As a track and field athlete she was the first-place runner-up in the high jump at the 2005 Georgia State 5A championships and perhaps most impressively, graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA. She was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Cup recipient, an honor which celebrates a student’s character and achievement in both academics and athletics.

Matriculating at the University of Connecticut, her hardwood successes under Geno Auriemma blew up on the bigger stage. Moore was instrumental in the Huskies notching back-to-back national championships in 2009 and 2010 when the team remained undefeated in 78 contests; the streak would reach 90, an NCAA both-gender and all-divisions record.

The list of individual awards and honors bestowed upon Moore during her collegiate career is staggering and boggles the mind. A look at her final season (2010-’11) offers a revealing snapshot. Named the Most Outstanding Player of the Philadelphia Regional in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, she tallied her 3,000th-career point in a win against Duke and scored a game-high 36 more in UConn’s National Semifinal loss to Notre Dame 5 days later. No third national title but the votes had long since been tallied. She swept all conceivable individual honors: Moore won her 2nd Naismith College Player of the Year Award; her 3rd straight Wade Trophy (Best Women’s Basketball Player in NCAA Division I competition) for which freshmen are ineligible. Moore is the only player in history to win 3 and when she won it as a sophomore two years earlier, she was the first ever to do it; her 2nd Associated Press Women’s College Basketball Player of the Year Award; and her 2nd USBWA Women’s National Player of the Year Award. She was also voted Big East Player of the Year for the 3rd time and garnered a 4th consecutive unanimous First-Team All-American selection in WBCA, USBWA and AP polls, becoming the second player ever to achieve this milestone. (Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris — 2005-’09 — was the first).

In her historic college career Moore and the Huskies won 150 games and lost 4. She scored 3,036 points becoming the first Husky ever to break 3,000 and the fourth all-time leading scorer upon graduation in NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball. (She now ranks 10th). Her 1,276 career rebounds (#2 Husky); 310 steals (#3 Husky); 544 assists (#6 Husky); and 204 blocks (#4 Husky) make her the only women’s baller in Division I annals to record 2,500 points; 1,000 rebounds; 250 steals; 500 assists; and 150 blocked shots. She became just the third active player following Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles ever to be enshrined in the prestigious Huskies of Honor circle.

Moore’s academics didn’t suffer. She graduated UConn with a 3.7 GPA earning what was then known as the Elite 88 Award presented by the NCAA saluting the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA who had reached the competition at the Finals site for each of the NCAA’s men’s and women’s championships across its three divisions (Divisions I, II & III). (The Award has since been renamed the Elite 90 Award). Moore also was celebrated as a Cosida Academic All-America First Team member in 2009, 2010 and 2011; the Cosida Academic All-America of the Year in 2010 and 2011 — the first ever to repeat; and the All-Sports Academic All-America of the Year in 2011.

Whew!!

Upon graduation Moore was selected by the Minnesota Lynx as the 1st overall pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft — the 4th time for a Husky — and became the first female basketball player ever to sign with the Jordan Brand. Her professional career has followed the same trajectory as all of her storied roundball exploits which preceded it, including the 2 Olympic Gold Medals (in London — 2012 and Rio de Janeiro — 2016) and the 2 World Championship Golds (in the Czech Republic — 2010 and Turkey — 2014) dotting her bursting-at-the-seams resume.

In a coco de mer-sized nutshell Moore’s WNBA accomplishments include the following:

4x WNBA Champion (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017);

— WNBA Finals MVP (2013);

— WNBA MVP (2014);

— 6x WNBA All-Star (2011, 2013–2015, 2017–2018);

— 3x WNBA All-Star Game MVP (2015, 2017, 2018);

— 5x All-WNBA First Team (2013–2017);

— 2x All-WNBA Second Team (2012, 2018);

— 2x WNBA All-Defensive Second Team (2014, 2017);

— WNBA Steals Leader (2018);

— WNBA Scoring Leader (2014);

— WNBA Rookie of the Year (2011);

— WNBA All-Rookie Team (2011); and

— WNBA Top 20@20 (2016).

And internationally:

— FIBA World Championship MVP (2014);

— 2x EuroLeague Women Champion (2012, 2018);

— Liga Femenina Champion (2012); and

— 3x WCBA Champion (2013–2015).

Even with all of this in mind, a very compelling argument could be made that Maya Moore’s most significant pursuit has been nourished and crafted away from the basketball court. Influenced by her godparents, Moore advocates for prosecutorial reform in the American justice system and specifically she is focusing on the release of Jonathan Irons from the Jefferson City Correctional Center, a maximum-security penitentiary in rural central Missouri. Moore wants to walk the walk and not simply talk the talk. She takes action which is why she chose to leave basketball behind for the 2019 season to help free a man whom she feels was wrongly convicted.

Jonathan Irons — Inmate №101145 — is serving 50 years, found guilty in 1998 of burglary and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sixteen years old. At 39, he’s completed nearly half his sentence and Moore stands staunchly in his corner. A religious woman, she is answering what she describes as a call from God. She is of the mind that God wants her to step back from the fray (basketball) and consider matters of larger importance and broader scope.

The history and the fate of Jonathan Irons represents exactly that to Maya Moore. Athletes not named Michael Jordan — to whom Moore’s game has been compared incidentally — are speaking out with increasing urgency about social issues and Moore is very much engaged. She is convinced that Irons has been victimized by a racist justice system and she has become deeply involved. She has given money and a lot of time working toward a last-ditch bid for his release. Her underlying motivation is to contribute to a mass movement geared toward rejiggering and even overhauling American jurisprudence. In Irons’ case of course Moore and others want to “make right a terrible wrong.”

“Over ten thousand people may be wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. Every year. And I know one of them.

— -Maya Moore to NBC News

Moore’s strong network of cousins in Jefferson City including her godparents Reggie and Cherilyn Williams became acquainted with Irons through a prison ministry outreach program and were impressed by his friendliness, wit and eagerness to learn. “There was something about him,” Reggie Williams observed. “Just a peace.” Williams had developed such an encompassing interest in the case that he spent months researching it and enlightened Moore to the vagaries and inconsistencies of it during a family vacation when Moore was eighteen. She was shocked to say the least. Irons was a poor African-American teenager who had been tried as an adult (due to an earlier misdemeanor for tampering with a car) and was convicted by an all-white jury. The crime was violent and involved a gun but no weapon was found. No blood evidence. No fingerprints. No footprints. Nothing tieing Irons to the crime. His 50-year sentence was handed down at a trial which ended when Irons was 18 — Moore’s age at the time.

She was in. She cared. And Irons was adamant, resolute and unwavering. He did not commit the crime for which he is imprisoned.

A key piece of evidence was a detective’s testimony at a pretrial hearing during which he described an interrogation with Irons. The detective claimed Irons admitted to breaking and entering but could not remember anything else because he was drunk. There were no notes from the interrogation and no recordings. Irons was questioned without a lawyer or a guardian present and no other law enforcement personnel was present. The detective who has since died, could not be cross-examined during the trial because he was ill. Irons has always denied making such a confession and further stated that he had a gun in his possession that night but it was not a .25-caliber handgun which was fired twice by the burglar. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time during the 1990s, an era when the White House and Congress encouraged harsh penalties for youthful offenders, many of whom were poor African-American boys and young men. Swept up by the police willy-nilly and with impunity, many convictions have been overturned years later thanks to forensic testing or other new evidence.

Irons is now in his fourth appeal; he wants his case re-examined. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office is fighting to uphold his conviction.

If all this wasn’t enough to hook Moore she need only be reminded of the summer of 2016 when Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African-American male was shot to death by a police officer in Minnesota. Or when Alton B. Sterling, a 37-year-old African-American man met the same fate at the hands of a police officer in Louisiana. Or when five Dallas officers were shot to death by a sniper during a protest of police brutality.

Moore wrestles with what she considers an unequivocal and painful reality, “that black and brown bodies are more vulnerable because of our country’s history, that our justice system has historically operated from a racist spirit. It is true, but not an acknowledged truth.” With Irons in the forefront of her mind she is pushing hard for reform. She is contributing to the fees for one of Missouri’s top private defense lawyers to work on Irons’ case. The lawyer is marshalling what Irons sees as his last shot at freedom: a request to reopen the case that would rely largely on a fresh look at fingerprint evidence and on new expert testimony. The presiding judge (Judge Daniel Green) will first hear prosecutorial arguments that the case should remain closed.

Moore’s take? “At least we still have a chance. We’re still in the fight…we’re going to have to wait…”

She has launched a non-profit, Win With Justice to spotlight wrongful convictions and in September she started a change.org petition on Irons’ behalf. It has already racked up 75,000 signatures.

As for her return to basketball? “The word ‘uncertain’ is the safest answer, the one I feel most comfortable giving,” she said.

Not the word she would choose to describe her position on criminal justice reform.

Said she, “It’s one of the best feelings of giving somebody a voice. Just one person. But then I realized, when I give Jonathan a voice, so many other people get a voice.”

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