July 2, 2020 

Maya Moore’s sacrifice led to arguably her greatest accomplishment

Maya Moore has reached her goal of overturning Jonathan Irons' wrongful conviction. What will be her next chapter?

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Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

The last time we saw Maya Moore on a basketball court was the end of the 2018 WNBA season. The Minnesota Lynx forward had already accomplished so much as a then-29-year-old. She had won championships at every level, numerous Most Valuable Player awards, and named to just about every All-Whatever Team you could think of.

Frankly, there wasn’t much more for Moore to accomplish on the basketball court. In early 2019, she surprised the sports world by walking away to pursue a greater calling when she announced she would sit out the coming season to fight to overturn the wrongful conviction of Jonathan Irons, a then-inmate at Jefferson County Correctional Facility. Irons and Moore had known each other going back to her freshman year of college through her godfather who was reviewing his case.

A weight lifted

On Wednesday evening, Moore and Irons met the moment they were waiting for when he walked out of prison a free man. With assistance from Moore, Irons was released after serving 22 years of a 50-year prison sentence. At age 40, Irons gains another 28 years of freedom, an invaluable gift.

Moore appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday and said she was relieved and that she was planning to take some time to rest before assessing her future around Spring 2021. It’s clear Moore has invested so much into this process that the emotional toll must have been immense and it’s understandable to want to take some time to decompress.

In a statement from the team, Minnesota Lynx General Manager and Head Coach Cheryl Reeve said:

“Maya Moore got to celebrate another championship yesterday and none of us who have been blessed to have Maya in our lives are surprised. I cannot imagine, however, what this one must feel like. I was overwhelmed seeing Maya watch Jonathan Irons walk out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man. For the last few years we watched as she gracefully committed herself to Jonathan’s case, and as she has done so often on the basketball court, put the Irons team on her back. I am overcome with joy that Maya and all involved were able to reach their goal of Jonathan’s exoneration.

I also can’t help but feel a great deal of anger. Maya Moore should never have had to leave her profession to engage in the fight against the two-tiered criminal justice system that over polices, wrongfully convicts, and over sentences black and brown communities. The criminal justice system in America is so far from fair and equal and it angers me that Maya has had to sacrifice so much to overcome this racially disparate system.

On behalf of the Lynx organization, we are so proud of Maya for earning the biggest win of her career. I am sure that she was voted MVP of this championship, too. This time there is no hardware to take home to the trophy case, just a wrongfully convicted black man walking free.”

While it’s important for the team to publicly (and hopefully privately) support Moore like this, it’s also important for Reeve to acknowledge the sacrifice Moore made to make this day happen. At the height of her prime, physical abilities, and earning power, Moore walked away from her career to help a person regain their freedom. Moore has likely sacrificed wealth and her career to combating injustice in the criminal justice system.

Looking to the future

It’s not even clear now if Moore will play basketball again, but any basketball-related achievements would pale in significance to the one she and Irons had on Wednesday. If she never plays another game, it would be hard to blame her. After all, what is there left to prove in basketball unless she feels compelled to play again? She’s accomplished everything a player can in the game.

What is inspiring about Moore is how she dedicated herself to Irons’ case in a way that even exceeds the intensity she exhibits in a WNBA Finals or Olympic gold medal game. The reward and feeling of having helped someone regain decades of their life has to be more gratifying than any trophy.

We may not know what’s next from Moore, but whatever she does, we know she will be great.

Written by Derek James

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