Maya Moore’s legacy isn’t being the GOAT. It’s a ‘heartbeat for humanity’

There will always be an abundance of memories for Maya Moore to think of when she reflects on her career. She lifted the NCAA national championship trophy twice while at Connecticut, not to mention the various Player of the Year awards. She won four WNBA titles within seven years with the Minnesota Lynx, adding a Finals MVP and league MVP. Two Olympic gold medals belong to the superstar.

Yet when asked to choose a few favorites hours after announcing that she was officially retiring from the WNBA, Moore steered away from any of those accolades. The only mention of one was when she said a favorite Lynx moment was watching teammate Seimone Augustus win her first WNBA championship and Finals MVP in 2011. Moore, 33, briefly mentioned that it happened in one of her home states of Georgia, but that’s not what mattered in her mind.

While Moore might be on the GOAT mountain and a surefire Hall of Famer, her incredible basketball talents and success will not be her legacy. That's her ability to care so deeply for the connections she was able to make through it and the impact that has reverberated because of it. It's an impact that expanded when she stepped away from the game four years ago for social justice pursuits. Once a player who transcended basketball’s gender line, she now transcends the sports one for a different type of victory.

“I hope people can find inspiration from my heartbeat for humanity,” said Moore, who made her retirement official while promoting her new book with husband Jonathan Irons. “And engaging in sport in a way that remembers that our humanity is first and foremost in how we play the game, how we leverage that game, how we treat people [and] how we play the game responsibly.”

Maya Moore celebrates a Minnesota Lynx win in 2012. She officially announced her retirement from professional basketball on Monday. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Maya Moore celebrates a Minnesota Lynx win in 2012. She officially announced her retirement from professional basketball on Monday. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Moore's announcement signals the end of a WNBA era. She is the final player of the core Lynx dynasty to retire, following Lindsay Whalen (September 2018), Rebekkah Brunson (February 2020), Augustus (May 2021) and Sylvia Fowles (September 2022). Their imprint on the franchise is seen in the trophy cases and the rafters as their jersey numbers begin to be retired. It’s difficult to understate their excellence.

“I think there’s very few teams that had a core like we did with such good chemistry,” Moore said.

Moore, the 2011 Rookie of the Year, leads her counterparts with a franchise-best 73.8 winning percentage (200-71). She, Augustus (225) and Whalen (201) are the winningest Lynx players. They and Brunson each have a record 40 postseason victories. All have their names scattered in the record books.

“You just realize what a ridiculous gift it is to be able to do what I was able to do,” Moore said. “It was just very humbling to be around so many great people and athletes and fans, people who love the game. That’s just so unique.”

While Moore’s career ended up being a short one, it was far and away one of the most successful. She was in the playoffs all eight seasons and reached the Finals in six of them. She was named to six All-Star teams and won All-Star MVP three times (2015, 2017 and 2018). The two seasons she was not named were Olympic years in which the WNBA did not award them. In 2014, she earned league MVP honors in a near-unanimous vote.

None of that was on Moore’s radar for her most memorable moment. It couldn’t be for a player who wants the community to remember her as someone who had the “healthy life-giving perspective about where people fit” into her life, career and overall journey.

Instead, Moore recalled the team celebrating its fourth title in seven years by doing community service in Washington, D.C., in 2018, when it was not invited for a traditional White House visit. Samaritan’s Feet “washed the feet of all those little babies,” Moore said, and shoes were donated by Jordan Brand and Nike.

“It was just so sweet to see the looks on those kids' faces who probably hadn’t had people washing their feet like that,” Moore said.

It was the same for her time at UConn, when she played in as many Finals Fours as she experienced total losses (150-4). It’s the most wins in a single career in NCAA history, men’s or women’s, and the team rattled off a record 90-game winning streak over two seasons.

Moore's favorite UConn memory isn’t any of that. It’s the preseason before her sophomore year, when the team was motivated after a loss in the semifinals. They’d wake up at 5 a.m., get in the gym, play pickup, go through conditioning and work with a nutritionist when it wasn’t something all programs did.

“Our team chemistry just shot through the roof, and we were just all so focused and unified in that grind,” said Moore, who noted it’s “not a normal memory” but “awesome” all the same.

Each era of her life was about the chemistry of her relationships, and it’s what she thought about while away from the game the past four seasons. It’s also what led into her next life phase.

Moore has not played since 2018 while she worked to free Irons, a longtime family friend who was imprisoned on a wrongful conviction at the age of 16. Moore and Irons married shortly after his release in 2020 and welcomed their first child a year ago. Their pursuit of justice was featured in “Breakaway,” an ESPN “30 for 30” installment that premiered in July 2021. The couple’s memoir, “Love and Justice,” released Tuesday. And they have shifted their attention to helping more people with their Win with Justice initiative.

The lead-in to this life includes one of the most memorable moments of Moore’s career, at least to the greater sports world. In July 2016, after Philando Castile was killed by police in Minneapolis, Lynx players came out for a game wearing black warm-up shirts that read “Change starts with us” and “Justice & Accountability” on the front.

“Our team unified in what I call a humble way of really just taking the eyes off of our basketball talents for a moment to put eyes and hearts and minds on our shared humanity, which was our goal,” Moore told reporters Monday.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

Off-duty police officers walked off the job. Other teams joined in wearing black warm-ups. The league office fined teams and players for violating the uniform policy, though those fines were later rescinded. The moment stood as a turning point for not only the W but also its work leading the sports world into being unapologetically more than an athlete.

There’s a through line from then to Moore “getting the courage,” in her words, to step away in the prime of her career to “give attention to what matters most, which are people, the people thriving, people’s well-being.”

Moore was already a player known coast-to-coast, with her poster up in young children’s bedrooms and her name uttered by basketball fans — not just women’s basketball fans — as if already part of the game’s lore. It was — and still can be — rare for a female player to accomplish that.

If casual fans were asked to name a player in the 2010s, odds are it would be Maya. She was the first women’s player to sign with Jordan Brand in 2011 and later replicated the “Wings” pose made famous by Michael Jordan in marketing material. She was the face of the league.

A decade later, she’s the face of a movement about humanity who makes announcements not in pregame news conferences but on morning talk shows. She found purpose not in the championships but in the chemistry of people and their meaning. Her life has been about championship and trophy moments; they just don’t always come with hardware surrounded by confetti.

“The way I've been shaped, I think, has really just caused me to value relationships, value being present, value the process and value people,” Moore said. “Because our story is a victory story, and I got to be a part of a lot of victories. But it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy at all. Every victory you see, you see 100 different moments of perseverance. I’m glad we’ve gotten more of a chance to talk about that more recently.”