Maya Moore: Love and (No More) Basketball
Every other week in The Coach’s Box, Timothy Thomas explores the various lessons that can be learned from the world of sports.
It’s hard not to think of Maya Moore as the absolute standard for basketball. Not just women’s basketball, but basketball, period. Moore was a leader on the court at both the collegiate and professional levels. She has awards, accolades, and championships too long to list here. If you’re unfamiliar with Moore’s accomplishments, check out her Wikipedia page.
But of all Moore’s achievements, her character, love for God, and love for people is her most remarkable trait. She exemplifies this in her recent decision to officially retire from basketball after a three-year hiatus to focus on criminal justice reform.
Recently she and her long-time family friend and now husband, Jonathon Irons, on whom she focused her reform efforts, interviewed with NPR’s Consider This podcast and shared details of their relationship and why she decided to announce her retirement finally.
Maya and Jonathon’s love story would be the typical Christian love story if not for Maya’s superstar status and Jonathon’s unfair trial and unjust 50-year sentence almost 25 years ago. At the height of Moore’s career, she put everything on hold to pursue Jonathon’s freedom. She used her platform to draw attention to his case and land him a new trial. Her efforts proved successful when Irons was eventually acquitted.
It’s the typical Christian love story because, throughout their interaction to pursue Jonathon’s freedom, they slowly built their relationship on friendship. However, when asked in the NPR interview when their companionship turned into a little more than a friendship, Jonathan insisted there was no “moment.”
“[W]e got to talk to each other and experience encouraging each other in low omens of our lives,” Jonathan said. He continued, “And we made time to talk to each other because she had a busy life… And I had a busy life that I was involved in that basically I had to survive.”
Maya added, “We just developed a profound respect for each other. And that respect and that affection—God wove it together to become a deep love, and that’s where we have been now for the last almost 10 years and have that in marriage now for 2 1/2 years, which is crazy.”
Now just two and a half years into their marriage, the two were asked how married life, in reality, is compared to the married life they’re living.
“I learned walking with Jonathan and walking with God. You know, our faith in our relationship with God is the foundation of everything that we do. And I feel like the Lord showed me—I was hoping for things with kind of more of a narrow vision of how I would want it to unfold, when, in fact, what’s going to happen could be more beautiful, more mysterious and more creative than I can even envision.”
Maya’s answer also answers how a heroine of the sport like her could walk away from the game. In a world where superstar athletes are playing longer at even the highest levels of competition (e.g., Tom Brady, Lebron James), Moore is content to call her career quits. For her, there’s something and someone better to pursue at this point in her life. “Basketball player” is not her final defining identity.
But that doesn’t mean walking away is easy for Moore. She admits, “There’s layers of my life of transitioning from being a player to… not playing and then transitioning as being a friend to Jonathan… coming home, and then the dynamic of being married and then becoming parents.”
Maya continued, “I think walking away from the game—restructuring my life to create space was just so crucial. Like, one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is a centerpiece for our family is margin. Margin, margin, margin—leave yourself margin to be human because there’s going to be unexpected things that you’ve got to give your attention to.”
From Maya Moore’s decision to retire from basketball in the prime of her career, we can learn to use our gifts and talents to pursue the good and flourishing of others’ lives. The greatest love Jesus defines for us is when we lay down our lives for one another (John 15:13). Maya Moore discovered her greatest love in laying down her career for her now-husband, son, and the many other unjustly incarcerated people in the prison system.
Though basketball is officially no more for Moore, love remains. And that is an attribute worth chasing for us all.