How True Superhero Maya Moore Conquered the Court and the Courtroom

Maya Moore had one of the most glittering basketball careers imaginable; not just a four-time WNBA champion but a global star who dominated the sport around the world, winning league titles in Europe and China, as well as a set of four Olympic and World Championship gold medals. She was such a frequent visitor to the White House that President Obama joked they had named a wing of the building after her, but at the peak of her career she stepped away from the court and took on an entirely different challenge. Now, in a manner befitting a True Superhero she’s fighting for justice, and as always, she’s winning. 

The Invincible Queen

Maya started winning at a young age, and has never stopped. She had a 125-3 record with her high school team, the Collins Hill Eagles, who she led to four consecutive state championships before moving on to the University of Connecticut. As a member of UConn’s Huskies she became the first freshman in history - male or female - to be named the Big East Player of the Year, and then won the Wade Trophy in three consecutive years, and is again the only person to have ever achieved this feat. Over her four years with the Huskies she won 150 games and lost just four, winning two NCAA championships, and she managed all of this while maintaining exemplary academic grades; winning the NCAA’s inaugural Elite 88 award for the athlete with the best grade-point average. After she graduated in 2011 she headed to the WNBA, where she was the top overall pick in the 2011 draft, joining the Minnesota Lynx. 

How True Superhero Maya Moore Conquered the Court and the Courtroom

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Maya Moore had one of the most glittering basketball careers imaginable; not just a four-time WNBA champion but a global star who dominated the sport around the world, winning league titles in Europe and China, as well as a set of four Olympic and World Championship gold medals. She was such a frequent visitor to the White House that President Obama joked they had named a wing of the building after her, but at the peak of her career she stepped away from the court and took on an entirely different challenge. Now, in a manner befitting a True Superhero she’s fighting for justice, and as always, she’s winning. 

The Invincible Queen

Maya started winning at a young age, and has never stopped. She had a 125-3 record with her high school team, the Collins Hill Eagles, who she led to four consecutive state championships before moving on to the University of Connecticut. As a member of UConn’s Huskies she became the first freshman in history - male or female - to be named the Big East Player of the Year, and then won the Wade Trophy in three consecutive years, and is again the only person to have ever achieved this feat. Over her four years with the Huskies she won 150 games and lost just four, winning two NCAA championships, and she managed all of this while maintaining exemplary academic grades; winning the NCAA’s inaugural Elite 88 award for the athlete with the best grade-point average. After she graduated in 2011 she headed to the WNBA, where she was the top overall pick in the 2011 draft, joining the Minnesota Lynx. 

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The Lynx had earned that first pick with a disastrous 13-21 performance the previous year, but this was not unusual for the perennial strugglers who, in the 12 years since their formation, had only scraped a winning regular season twice and had only ever won one postseason game. Moore immediately changed this: In her rookie year the Lynx went 27-7 in the regular season and only lost one postseason game en route to winning their first WNBA championship. In the following six years the Lynx would reach the finals five more times, winning three more championships with Maya picking up the Finals MVP award in 2013. Maya also dominated the sport internationally, winning two World Championships and two Olympic Golds between 2010 and 2016, but even this did not sate her desire for trophies so during the WNBA offseasons she won a EuroLeague and a Spanish domestic title with Valencia, before signing with Shanzi Flame and winning three consecutive titles in China (where she is known as 不败女王, “Invincible Queen”).

In 2017 Sports Illustrated named her “Performer of the Year”, stating that the award was “not only for leading the Lynx to their fourth WNBA title in seven years but also for her sustained success for more than a decade at every level, all around the globe.” She was still in her athletic prime at only 28 years old, and while she had already achieved everything basketball had to offer, those who worked alongside her were beginning to notice a change in the champion. Geno Auriemma, who was her coach at UConn and also coached the 2012 and 2016 Olympic winners would later say: "By the time we got to Rio, there was a difference about her. She just didn't have the electricity coming out of her." Understandably, many put this change down to exhaustion; nobody suspected the real reason.  

Shocking the world of basketball with “The Shift”

The 2018 season was not a great success for the Lynx. They finished the regular season with a .529 record and lost in the opening round of the playoffs, which was only the second time since Moore joined that they had failed to make the finals, although ironically enough it was an identical performance to their best season before Maya was drafted. At the start of 2019 Maya posted an article called “The Shift” on the Player’s Tribune website. In it, she announced: “I will not be playing professional basketball this year… my focus in 2019 will not be on professional basketball, but will instead be on the people in my family, as well as on investing my time in some ministry dreams that have been stirring in my heart for many years.”

To say that this announcement shocked the world of basketball would be an understatement, and even the people in the sport who were closest to her, her coaches and teammates, were amazed. In recent years, Maya had become more focused on social justice issues, leading player protests in the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement, and she had always been strongly motivated by her faith, but for a player of her stature to walk away from the sport in her prime was unprecedented. Exhaustion would have been the obvious explanation, but while the Lynx were coming off the back of - by their standards - a poor season, Maya’s individual statistics were consistent with previous years and she was still clearly performing at an elite level. Pundits were perplexed, but it wouldn’t take long for the real reason to reveal itself.

From the court to the courtroom

Many years previously Maya had met a prison inmate called Jonathan Irons as part of her church’s prison outreach program, run by her godparents Reggie and Cheri Williams. Irons had been convicted in 1998 of burglary, assault and battery when he was still just 16 years old, and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The case made against Irons was flimsy; there was no physical evidence linking him to the scene of the crime, and his conviction hinged on the testimony of the victim, who was unable to identify Irons as the attacker immediately after the incident but would later positively identify him in court. 

Irons had protested his innocence from the start, and while Maya’s godparents and their church had supported his cause for many years, they did not have the resources to hire legal counsel or investigators until Maya devoted herself to helping fulltime with the case. Even with her support, it was difficult; the highest paid WNBA players earn less than a quarter of the mandated minimum salary of their male counterparts in the NBA, but with Moore’s help the Williams were able to finally bring a vital piece of evidence to court. In 2007 they had discovered that the latent fingerprint report submitted by the prosecution in the original trial omitted a key set of fingerprints; ones that did not belong to the victim, or to Irons (whose fingerprints were never found at the scene of the crime). After ten months of legal wrangling, the case was finally heard and the judge ruled that evidence had been deliberately suppressed, and Irons had been wrongfully convicted. 

How True Superhero Maya Moore Conquered the Court and the Courtroom

After more than 21 years in jail Irons was finally released, but Maya was in no hurry to return to the WNBA. Instead, she and Jonathan married, and as she later told Good Morning America: "This journey has been quite wild, so I'm still trying to take that time to really get settled… We just got married. I'm still planning on taking some rest and really just leaning in to this season of enjoying Jonathan and having this full year." Irons has filed a civil lawsuit against the authorities, telling reporters "I am not the only person that this has happened to… this lawsuit is about publicly exposing what has happened to me, sharing the truth and creating public awareness. And hopefully creating a deterrent to stop this from happening to someone else." Maya has recently given birth to a son, and while it remains to be seen whether she will ever return to the basketball court it is clear that she intends to pursue more victories in the courtroom. As she told Good Morning America: "The way you change things is one person at a time, one story at a time… that's what we're really after, redefining what a win is in our justice system."

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