There will always be a plethora of memories for Maya Moore to think about as she reflects on her career. She won the NCAA National Championship trophy twice while in Connecticut, not to mention several Player of the Year awards. She won four WNBA titles in seven years with the Minnesota Lynx, adding a Finals MVP and league MVP. There are two Olympic gold medals that belong to the superstar.
But when asked to pick a few favorites hours after announcing she was officially retiring from the WNBA, Moore steered clear of all those accolades. The only mention of one was when she said a favorite Lynx moment was watching teammate Seimone Augustus win her first WNBA Championship and Finals MVP in 2011. Moore, 33, briefly mentioned that it happened in one of her home states, Georgia, but that’s not what’s important in her mind.
While Moore may be on the GOAT mountain and a surefire Hall of Famer, her incredible basketball talents and success won’t be her legacy. It’s her ability to care so deeply about the connections she’s been able to make as a result and the impact that reverberates as a result. An impact that increased when she left the game four years ago to pursue social justice. Once a player who transcended the gender line of basketball, she now transcends the sports line for a different kind of victory.
“I hope people can take inspiration from my heartbeat for humanity,” said Moore, who made her retirement official while promoting her new book with husband Jonathan Irons. “And by doing sports in a way that remembers that our humanity is first and foremost in how we play the game, how we use that game, how we treat people [and] how we play the game responsibly.”
It heralds the end of a WNBA era. Moore is the last Lynx Dynasty player to retire, following Lindsay Whalen (September 2018), Rebekkah Brunson (February 2020), Augustus (May 2021), and Sylvia Fowles (September 2022). Their stamp on the franchise can be seen in the trophy cases and rafters as their squad numbers retire. It’s hard to underestimate their excellence.
“I think there are very few teams that had such good chemistry as we did,” said Moore.
Moore, the 2011 Rookie of the Year, leads them all with a franchise-best 73.8 winning percentage (200-71). She, Augustus (225) and Whalen (201) are the winningest Lynx players. She and Brunson each have a record of 40 postseason wins. They all have their names scattered all over the record books.
“You just realize what a ridiculous gift it is to be able to do what I could do,” said Moore. “It was just really humbling to be around so many great people and athletes and fans, people who love the game. That is just so unique.”
Although Moore’s career was ultimately a short one, it was by far one of the most successful. She was in the playoffs all eight seasons and reached the finals in six seasons. She was named to six All-Star teams and won All-Star MVP three times (2015, 2017, and 2018). The two seasons in which she was not named were Olympic years in which the WNBA does not award them. In 2014, she earned the league’s MVP honors by near-unanimous votes.
None of that was on Moore’s radar for her most memorable moment. It can’t be for a player who wants the community to remember her as someone who had the “healthy life-giving perspective on where people fit in” in her life, career and overall journey.
Instead, Moore recalled that the team celebrated its fourth title in seven years by doing community service in Washington, D.C., when it was not invited to a traditional visit to the White House in 2018. Samaritan’s Feet “washed the feet of all those little babies,” Moore said, and shoes were donated by Jordan Brand and Nike.
“It was just so sweet to see the looks on those kids’ faces who probably wouldn’t have seen people wash their feet that way,” Moore said.
The same was true of her time at UConn, where she played in as many Finals Fours as total losses (150-4). It’s the most single-career wins in NCAA men’s and women’s history, and the team rattled off a record 90 wins over two seasons.
Her favorite UConn memory is none of that. It is the pre-season for her second year in which the team was motivated after losing in the semifinals. They woke up at 5 a.m., went to the gym, played pick-up, went through conditioning, and worked with a nutritionist when it wasn’t something all programs did.
“Our team chemistry went through the roof and we were just all so focused and united in that rut,” said Moore, noting that it’s “not a normal memory” but still “amazing”.
Every era of her life has been about the chemistry of her relationships, which is what she’s been thinking about for the past four seasons while away from the game. It’s also what led to her next stage in life.
Moore hasn’t played since 2018 as she worked to free Irons, an old family friend who was imprisoned at age 16 for a wrongful conviction. Moore and Irons married shortly after his release in 2020 and welcomed their first child a year ago. Their pursuit of justice was featured in “Breakaway,” an ESPN “30 for 30” episode that premiered in July 2021. The couple’s memoir, “Love and Justice,” was released on Tuesday. And they’ve shifted their focus to helping more people themselves with their Win with Justice initiative.
The build-up to this lifetime includes one of the most memorable moments of Moore’s career, at least to the greater sports world. In July 2016, after Philando Castile was killed by police in Minneapolis, Lynx players came out for a game wearing black warm-up shirts that read “Change starts with us” and “Justice & Accountability” on the front.
“Our team banded together in what I call a humble way to really take the eyes off our basketball talents for a moment to turn the eyes and hearts and minds to our shared humanity, which was our goal,” Moore told reporters Monday. .
Off-duty police officers left work. Other teams joined in wearing black warmups, and the league office fined teams and players for violating the uniform policy. Those fines were later withdrawn. The moment was a turning point for not only the W, but his work led the sports world to unapologetically become more than an athlete.
From then on, there is a through line to Moore, who, in her words, “gets the courage” to take a step back in the prime of her career to “pay attention to what matters most, and that is people, the people that flourish, the well-being of people’.
Moore was already a player known coast to coast, with her poster in young children’s bedrooms and her name spoken by basketball fans—not just women’s basketball fans—as if she were already part of the game’s lore. It was and still can be rare for a female player to do that.
If casual fans were asked to name a player in the 2010s, chances are it would be Maya. She was the first female player to sign with Jordan Brand in 2011 and later replicated the ‘Wings’ pose made famous by Michael Jordan in marketing materials. She was the face of the competition.
Ten years later, she’s the face of a movement about humanity making announcements not in pregame press conferences, but on morning talk shows. She found her purpose not in the championships, but in the chemistry of people and their significance. Her life revolves around championships and trophies, but they don’t always come with hardware surrounded by confetti.
“The way I was formed, I think, has really made me value relationships, value being present, value the process, and value people,” Moore said. “Because our story is a victory story and I have been part of many victories. But it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy at all. Every victory you see, you see 100 different moments of perseverance. I’m glad we’ve had more of a chance to talk about that lately.”