Maya Moore, the NCAA, WNBA and Olympic champion who stepped away from basketball to work on social justice causes and help overturn her future husband’s wrongful conviction, officially announced Monday that she is retiring from her basketball career.
She has spoken to the media about the memories she has of her time with the UConn women’s basketball team, where she was part of two exemplary seasons, and Minnesota Linuxa dynasty that won four WNBA titles and appeared in the league Finals six times during Moore’s eight-season career in the WNBA.
Moore, 33, also called her international career, playing in Spain, China and Russia, as well as winning two gold medals for the United States at both the Summer Olympics and the FIBA Women’s World Cup.
But Moore left it all behind after the 2018 WNBA season, at age 29 and in the prime of her career, to help longtime family friend Jonathan Irons get his 50-year prison sentence overturned, which he did in 2020. Moore and Irons were subsequently married that year. And I gave birth to a son last summer.
“I couldn’t have written this story like this,” Moore said Monday. “It was definitely unexpected. But at the same time, it’s thoughtful and planned and prepared. That’s what life is, right? A lot of it is unexpected. But you do your best.” Also to try to prepare. This is basketball too. You don’t know how the game is going to go, but you do your best to prepare.”
Usually, though, games unfold in Moore’s favor. Born in Jefferson City, Missouri in June 1989, she was a high-energy kid inspired by the 1998 Final Four Women’s fanfest in Kansas City. The Tennessee Lady Volunteers won that NCAA title and eventually heavily recruited Moore, who by that time had moved to Georgia, where she was a star in high school.
But Moore chose to go to UConn, where, as a freshman, she led the Huskies to the Final Four in 2008. It was the program’s fourth Final Four, and the first in a 14-straight streak that is still ongoing. UConn lost in the semifinals to Stanford that year, but then began a 90-game winning streak the following season that would bring the Huskies two national championships. UConn was 39-0 in both 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Moore’s career at UConn ended with a rare, national semifinal loss against Notre Dame in 2011. She won her third consecutive Wade Trophy as national player of the year, finishing 150-4 in UConn.
When asked about her favorite memory at UConn, where she averaged 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds and is the school’s all-time leading scorer (3,036 points), Moore actually pointed to preseason workouts in 2008 that led to two perfect seasons.
“Those five weeks in the fall before the season started, and we were training our tails,” Moore said with a smile. “We were so excited because we lost in the Final Four the year before. And our team chemistry just went through the roof. We were all very focused and united in that grind. And it ended up being something to see in those next few years.”
Moore was the WNBA’s first pick in 2011, going to the Lynx the season after Cheryl Reeve took over the coach position and point guard Lindsay Whalen to the franchise via trade. Moore joined a team that also had the 2006 No. 1 draft pick Seimone Augustus, and the Lynx won the first of their four titles with a sweep of the WNBA Finals in Atlanta in 2011.
It began the run in which the Lynx reached the WNBA Finals six times in a seven-year period. Their other titles came in 2013, 2015, and 2017. Moore was named WNBA MVP in 2014, when she averaged career highs of 23.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.
For her Lynx career, she averaged 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 271 regular season games and 19.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 3.2 APG in 56 playoff games. She was the 2011 Rookie of the Year, a five-time WNBA first team selection, the 2013 WNBA Finals MVP and a six-time All-Star.
“On behalf of the Minnesota Lynx organization, I want to congratulate Maya on an amazing basketball career,” Reeve said in a statement. “We will always cherish her time in the Lynx costume and wish her all the best as she continues to pursue this next chapter in her life.”
Over the past four years, Moore said, the thing she craved most about basketball was her Lynx teammates. But she said her mind was very focused on her personal life and her social justice work, and it wasn’t hard for those things to become a priority.
“I’m just trying to learn a new rhythm outside of playing,” she said. “It was very hard sometimes to accept like…missing my teammates. Because as you guys have been watching us, you know over the course of eight years, our chemistry has been great.
“I think there are very few teams that have substance as we did with such good chemistry…so I missed that more than anything. But I was so full and focused on what I was doing that I wasn’t just sitting around wishing I was playing again.” I just felt this sense of purpose.”
Moore said people asked her about coaching basketball one day. While she doesn’t rule it out, she said the commitment it takes to be a good trainer isn’t something to be taken lightly.
“Coaches give so much, and that takes such commitment,” she said. “There is no way I could have gone through the journey I’ve been on without coaches. I’ve been amazed to have world class coaches for more than half of my career.
“So I don’t want to say, ‘Yeah, I can coach,’ like that casual thing. Coaching is such a heavy, honorable, invested thing. My time and energy, where I’m in my life right now, we don’t have space for that. If we don’t have great coaches, We don’t have interesting sports.”
UConn’s Geno Auriemma has coached some of the greatest women’s basketball players in history, with Moore at the top of that list.
“Maya has obviously given this thought, and I’m sure it wasn’t a decision that came lightly,” Oryema said in a statement about her retirement. “The love Maya had for the game, the way she played it, the passion with which she played the game – you just can’t get away from that carelessly.
“At the same time, to be able to make that decision, she tells me she’s very committed to life, the family she’s built, and the causes she’s fighting at the moment. She decided that winning trophies off the field was more satisfying than trophies won on the court. I have no doubt about her.” The success she had in high school, in college, in the pros, in the Olympics has prepared her for even greater success for herself, for her family and for the community she is a part of. I’m really proud of her for making that decision.”
When asked what she hopes fans will remember most about her, Moore said her passion and energy, which she had from childhood.
“I hope people will look at me as giving my all in whatever she was doing,” Moore said. “But also someone who looks beyond the career I’m after and tries to value people. Having a healthy, energetic perspective on where people fit into this journey of life we’re on.
“And someone who never gives up. Whether it’s in a game and trying to help the team come back, or someone not giving up, like Jonathan. Or just persevering every year. I tried to finish things that I said yes to.”