There is perhaps no greater champion on the basketball court than Maya Moore. Four WNBA titles, back-to-back national championships in college, three straight titles in China, a pair of EuroLeague championships and two Olympic gold medals... all of that in addition to a supersized collection of individual accolades.
In 2019 - in the prime of her career - Moore stepped away from the game with her sights set on a different goal: to secure the freedom of Jonathan Irons, a wrongfully convicted man serving a 50-year sentence for a crime he didn't commit.
On Wednesday, Moore secured an off-the-court win that dwarfs any of the aforementioned on-the-court successes.
The WNBA legend waited with her family and other supporters for Irons outside the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri as he was released from prison.
Now 40 years old, Irons was a free man for the first time since being wrongfully convicted in 1998 on charges of burglary and assault. During a time when athletes have spoken up more than ever about playing a more active role in the ongoing fight for social justice, Moore stands front and centre as a role model for all after playing a signifiant role in helping overturn Irons' case.
A Missouri native herself, Moore had met Irons in 2007 when she visited him through a prison ministry program. She remained in touch with Irons and his case after their meeting, during which time she established herself as one of the most accomplished basketball players ever.
In her four years with the UConn Huskies, Moore won back-to-back national championships and was named Naismith College Player of the Year twice. In her seven-year WNBA career, she has won four championships, one league MVP, one Finals MVP and Rookie of the Year award. In between her WNBA stints, she three-peated in the Women's Chinese Basketball League, won two EuroLeague championships and added a league title in Spain. She also represented the United States and led them to gold medals in two Olympics and two FIBA World Championships.
On the court, you won't find a bigger winner than Moore.
Then in 2019, in the prime of her career, Moore shocked the basketball world when she announced that she would miss the upcoming season "to focus on family and ministry dreams" in an article for the Players Tribune article. According to the New York Times' Kurt Streeter, a big reason for Moore's decision was so she could spend more time and energy on what they believed to be Irons' final appeal. Moore had been raising public awareness on Irons' case in 2016, when she began contributing financially to his defense team and attended the case's court hearings.
In January of this year, with a decision in the case still pending, Moore decided to sit out another WNBA season and the Tokyo Olympics, which is now postponed to 2021.
"My decision to take another year was bigger than this case," she told the AP. "But obviously, this case was in the forefront of my mind. I'm looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family."
The first domino to fall in Irons' freedom fell in March when Daniel Green, a Missouri judge, threw out the convictions in the case. After a couple of failed trials by the attorney general's office, Irons was let go when Tim Lohmar, the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County (where the crime occurred in 1998), declined a retrial on Wednesday afternoon.
For her role in overturning Irons' case, Moore received love and praise from her WNBA and NBA family.
Congratulations .@MooreMaya. The @WNBA is immensely proud of your hard work and determination. #winwithjustice Cheering for you always...🏀👏👏👏🏀 pic.twitter.com/zLcxseryyb- Cathy Engelbert (@CathyEngelbert) July 2, 2020
I am so very proud of the work Maya has put in outside of basketball. Always passionate, determined and focused on what needs to be done! Watch her work! Congrats to Maya and Jonathan!!! #freeatlast #justice https://t.co/EHffBVxtY9- rebekkah brunson (@twin1532) July 2, 2020
Audience of 1 @MooreMaya continue to walk in your purpose! Tears of joy, Love ya 🙏🏾🖤✊🏾 https://t.co/O7yTqpygad- Swin Cash (@SwinCash) July 2, 2020
Amazing ❤️ https://t.co/STp4hsLnik- Sue Bird (@S10Bird) July 2, 2020
S/o @MooreMaya what she's doing and has sacrificed should be talked about more. She stepped away at the peak of her career for something that she felt was much bigger than her. She's a hero.- Wilson Chandler (@wilsonchandler) July 2, 2020
S/o @MooreMaya man that's incredible! Truely an inspiration... sacrificed her career for something so much bigger 🙌🏾 talking the talk is one thing leading by example speaks greater volumes #salute- Myles Turner (@Original_Turner) July 2, 2020
The views on this page do not reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.