I met Maya Moore during her rookie year of 2011 with the Minnesota Lynx. Moore’s demeanor impressed me like few other athletes before or since. She had a warmth, a calm and friendly presence about her, but no one could have predicted that by 2023—now during Black History month—she would be remembered as both a sports and cultural hero for the ages.
Moore was a three-time college player of the year at Connecticut and won two national titles with the Huskies. Recognized as one of the 25 greatest WNBA players ever, Moore was gifted with many basketball skills including the ability to make teammates better. She was an indispensable contributor in the playoffs to four WNBA Lynx championships.
Yes, the basketball resume is awesome but she is also extraordinary because of her high character and the exemplary life she lives as a social justice advocate. Publicly, that commitment first surfaced with the Lynx in 2016 while leading teammates in calls for change. This was long before other prominent athletes were speaking up.
That willingness to see wrong and speak out about it was followed by her stunning decision to take a sabbatical from basketball after the 2018 season to focus on criminal justice reform. Before Moore had reached 30 years old, and at the peak of her on-court skills, she began a journey that helped free the wrongly convicted and incarcerated Jonathan Irons.
Irons, like Moore, is a Jefferson City, Missouri native, and along way the two fell in love and are now married. Moore, who hasn’t played a WNBA game since the summer of 2018, officially announced her basketball retirement last month on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a guest of the Good Morning America program.
Glen Taylor has owned the Lynx since the franchise’s inception in 1999. He knows that at age 33 Moore could still be leading his team. Several years ago, before Moore left for her sabbatical, Taylor and Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve had hoped to build the team around the 6-foot, multi-positional superstar. Moore’s departure caught the Lynx, who haven’t won a WNBA title since 2017, off guard. “Certainly it did impact our ability to compete,” Taylor told Sports Headliners.
Yet Taylor and Reeve understand Moore’s values and decisions. .”…It’s to be admired that she had the fortitude to take that course of action,” Taylor said.
WNBA players have long been paid minimal salaries as franchises work to develop revenues locally and nationally. Moore reportedly earned $45,000 in each of her first two pro seasons with the Lynx. At the time of her sabbatical, Spotrac.com listed her salary at $117,000.
After Moore stepped away from the Lynx, did Taylor and Reeve try to incentivize a return with more money? “We chose not to do that because we didn’t think money was the issue,” Taylor said. “When I talked to her, we talked about family, we talked about religion, we talked about many things, but we never talked about money.”
Moore made a big impression on Taylor way back in 2011 when the Lynx players were invited to his home in Mankato. After enjoying a meal organized by Taylor’s wife Becky, players went downstairs to play billiards and other games.
Not Moore, though.
“Here’s Maya standing right next to Becky doing the dishes,” Taylor recalled. “She didn’t see herself as something special that way. She just saw herself as that was what she would have done in her house. So therefore, she did it here.”
The Mankato billionaire has owned the NBA Timberwolves for almost 30 years. He’s known a lot of male and female players who have impressed him but Moore is in a special group.
“I think she was one of my favorites,” Taylor said. “Not only for basketball skills but just being the person that she was. The leadership she provided our team, and her own personal goals that she set for herself. I admired that and therefore (it) probably pushed her toward the top of people that I respect.”
Maybe in the not too distant future Moore will step on to the Target Center Court one more time and have her No. 23 jersey number retired. “I see that happening,” Taylor said.