This story appears in FCA Magazine’s May/June 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
“HI, I’M MAYA MOORE. I LIKE MATH AND PLAYING BASKETBALL.”
Viewed in hindsight, this qualifies as an amusing understatement. Maya Moore first typed those words at her mother’s encouragement, an earnest declaration for a résumé she was writing—in sixth grade.
Now one of the world’s most accomplished female athletes, what else would you expect from someone who many consider to be such an underappreciated superstar?
This small window into Moore’s past provides a revealing look at the strong-as-epoxy relationship between Kathryn Moore and her only child. Kathryn—seeing a 12-year-old oozing with potential—helped Maya create the document as a first step toward envisioning and reaching for her dreams in a practical way.
“We had no idea that I’d be where I am today,” Maya says, laughing at the memory. “She was just hoping I’d be 5-foot-9 and make it to college. God said, ‘You just keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ve got great plans for you.’”
Those great plans have included unmatched success on the hardwood, which has elevated Moore to a platform from which she can effect change in today’s culture.
Despite the many awards and accomplishments that fill her current résumé, Moore would humbly declare the most impactful of her endeavors happen away from the court, where she has a passion for being the hands and feet of Christ and serving those who can go “unnoticed” in our society—especially one man whom she believes has been forgotten by the criminal justice system. Years later, she still trusts that as long as she keeps doing what she’s doing, God has great plans for her ahead.
• • •
Maya Moore spent the first 11 years of her life in Jefferson City, Missouri, where she and Kathryn, a single parent, were surrounded by a loving extended family. But Kathryn’s career eventually sent the duo to Charlotte, North Carolina, then to Suwanee, Georgia. By eighth grade, Maya had attended four different middle schools. It was a life-altering time in their lives, but for Kathryn and Maya, the consistent presence and peace provided by their commitment to Christ helped sustain them through the changes in scenery.
“My love of God’s Word was sparked [at our church in Charlotte],” Maya says. “A year and change later, we ended up at another church [after moving to Georgia], and I began to see God as my Father and really began to trust him with my life.”
I began to see God as my Father.
This was no small step.
When Maya was born in 1989, her biological father wasn’t in the picture. The two, according to Moore, have since developed a relationship over the past 10 years.
With that as the backdrop, Moore’s view of God as a Heavenly Father who saves and adopts lost sinners was transformative.
“That was a vivid part for me in finding security and peace in knowing who I was because I knew who He was and because he relates to each of us as a Father,” she says. “It was a really powerful way for me to understand and relate to God.”
“We are to be Christ’s hands and feet.” -Maya Moore
As Moore was growing spiritually, she was also maturing athletically. By the time she graduated from Collins Hill High (Suwanee, Georgia), she was perhaps the top college recruit in the nation, having become only the second player in history to win consecutive Naismith National High School Player of the Year awards. During her four years on varsity, she led the Eagles to a 125-3 record, three state titles, and the 2007 USA Today mythical national championship.
At the University of Connecticut, she amassed a 150-4 record, four Final Four appearances, two NCAA championships (2009 and 2010), and three consecutive State Farm Wade Trophy National Player of the Year honors (2009-11).
The Minnesota Lynx selected her No. 1 overall in the 2011 WNBA draft, instantly changing the franchise’s fortunes. With Moore, other new acquisitions, and a healthy Seimone Augustus on the same roster, the Lynx transformed from a 13-21 team in 2010 to 27-7 league champions.
Now, only six seasons into her pro career, Moore has established herself as one of the WNBA’s all-time greats, leading the Lynx to five championship appearances and three titles. Her individual trophy case includes the 2011 Rookie of the Year Award, 2013 Finals MVP, 2014 League MVP and 2015 All-Star Game MVP.
Last summer, the WNBA featured her on its prestigious “20@20” list, a panel-selected roster of the league’s 20 all-time greatest players to commemorate its 20th anniversary. Moore, who will turn 28 this year, was the youngest player honored.
Including her two Olympic experiences (gold medals in 2012 and 2016), her win-loss record from high school to this WNBA season (not counting AAU competition) is 480-69, a staggering .874 winning percentage.
In 2011, she became the first female athlete to sign with Nike’s iconic Jordan Brand. And in 2013, she displayed some acting chops in a memorable Pepsi Max commercial alongside Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving and former NBA player Nate Robinson.
Moore knows success. And she knows how to win. Yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that she’s still largely flying under the radar.
‘A voice to the voiceless’
Perhaps the reason Moore stays under the radar is because she isn’t nearly as interested in the notoriety as some basketball superstars. Not content to sit poolside and sip on fame, she attacks social causes with equal ferocity as zone defenses, determined to help shine Christ’s light into the dark and forgotten corners of the world.
Take for instance her friendship with Jonathan Irons. In October 1998, a jury convicted him of first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and armed criminal action, related to a shooting that occurred the previous year in O’Fallon, Missouri. He was sentenced to 65 years in prison.
Irons, then a black 16-year-old and local small-time drug dealer, had pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him, his defense claiming he had been seen at a friend’s house a few blocks away when the crime occurred and fingerprints at the crime scene did not match his. He is now incarcerated at the Jefferson City (Missouri) Correctional Center, a medium/maximum security facility, a short drive from where Moore grew up. At the time of Irons’ conviction, Moore was only 9 years old. She didn’t know he existed.
Now, she is one of his biggest advocates, proclaiming his innocence and fighting for his exoneration.
Moore didn’t hear about Jonathan Irons’ story because of a documentary on Netflix. He isn’t the feature character in a viral, true-crime podcast series. Instead, it was Hugh Flowers, Moore’s great-uncle, and her godparents (Hugh’s daughter and son-in-law) who first told her about Irons. Flowers, a retired college vocal music director, met Irons about 17 years ago through his ministry as the choir director at the Missouri State Penitentiary, where Irons was originally incarcerated after his conviction. At the time, Irons was 19, about three years into his sentence.
As Moore researched the case, her heart broke for Irons. She began to pray for him and occasionally join her family members on their regular prison visits to him.
Plenty of professional athletes champion worthy causes. But how many actually support convicted felons who have served 20 years and have another 30 to go? Convicts carry stigmas. Why would Moore risk her reputation on someone whom many would consider to be a lost cause—just another statistic among America’s inmate population of 6.7 million?
The roots of Moore’s compassion toward the hurting and marginalized trace back to her youth. When USA Today named her to its 2006 All-USA prep team during her junior year, the newspaper asked her to complete this sentence for a Q&A to accompany the team photo: “The world would be better if ___.” Moore answered, “[If] we’d pay more attention to needy people.” To the question, “Who would you invite to dinner?” Moore replied, “Coretta Scott King. She was an amazing woman who helped effect change in our world.”
Moore’s mission, though, is greater than one man. She wants to see reforms throughout the country.
“We are to be Christ’s hands and feet,” she says. “We’re called to be loving neighbors. It might not be as popular, but we have to give a voice to the voiceless.”
The passion with which she approaches issues off the court is no surprise to FCA’s Michelle Backes, who also serves as the Lynx’ chaplain.
Bringing It Home Devotional: Beyond The Barriers
To be overlooked, forgotten, silenced or squelched was not in God's design. He first set His sights deliberately on each person on this planet, with great plans and purpose for us all. Read more
“She is so passionate,” Backes says. “She can hardly contain it in a game—in a good way—and I think that’s how it is inside her [spiritually], as well. When she sees injustice of any kind, I think that strikes a chord. I think she’s very prayerful. She won’t proceed with things until she gets clearance.”
Moore’s compassionate spirit extends beyond prison walls. She also supports the End It Movement, an organization that fights human trafficking and slavery worldwide.
When it comes to social justice, Moore takes her cues from Scripture. Psalm 37:28 declares, “For the LORD loves justice...” And Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” However she can, Moore seeks to reflect her Heavenly Father’s character to others.
“Turning a blind eye to injustice,” she says, “is the opposite of what the gospel means.”
During the WNBA season, Moore’s mission of reaching others with Christ’s love doesn’t change, even if the methods do. As a seven-year veteran, she has assumed the Lynx’ main player-leadership role for the chapel program vacated by Taj McWilliams-Franklin, whose WNBA career ended after the 2012 season. For the last four years, Moore has organized and hosted team Bible studies at her apartment in Minnesota.
“She’d serve her teammates in a safe place even if she was tired and didn’t have a great game the night before,” says Seattle Storm guard/forward Monica Wright, Moore’s former teammate in Minnesota. “You never felt like you owed her or had to pay her back. She just wanted you to get filled up.”
Witnessing her leadership abilities on and off the court, Backes has also been impressed with Moore’s knowledge of Scripture. When she asks Moore to speak during the Lynx’s annual “Faith and Family Night,” Backes says, “I don’t need to micromanage it.”
“As serious as she is as a professional athlete, she’s as serious about her faith,” Backes continues. “What we love and learn of the sport world, she transfers to her faith. I’ll be all excited about a [Christian] book I read. Maya will say, ‘Oh yeah, I read that this summer. Isn’t that awesome?’ It’s like, ‘OK, Maya, give me your reading list.’ It’s fun to talk with her as a peer and a Christian sister to sharpen each other.”
‘The strongest relationship’
If Moore needs any incentive this season, she’ll look no further than the final minute of last year’s WNBA Finals. Playing for a dynastic fourth championship in six years before a sold-out crowd of 19,423 at the Target Center, the Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks staged an instant classic. The game featured 11 ties, 24 lead changes, and two of the league’s biggest stars duking it out, as Moore scored 23 points and L.A.’s Candace Parker scored 28.
With 15 seconds left, Moore sent her defender reeling with a little shake-and-bake move before hitting a clutch turnaround jumper for a 76-75 Lynx lead. But with 2.1 ticks left, Nneka Ogwumike gave the Sparks the final advantage with an off-balance prayer after grabbing the deflection of her own blocked shot. At the buzzer, Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen heaved a desperation half-court shot, which bounced off the backboard.
“It was awful,” Moore says. “Definitely the hardest loss of my career the way it ended.”
This offseason, she could’ve anesthetized the pain by pursuing a fifth overseas championship and filling up her itinerary. Instead, she stepped back and took a deep breath.
A six-month-long deep breath.
“As serious as she is as a professional athlete, she’s as serious about her faith.”
-Lynx Chaplain Michelle Backes
From the time the WNBA Finals ended on Oct. 20 until 2017 training camps opened on April 23, Moore focused on “embracing the Sabbath.” She returned home to the Atlanta suburbs, where she lives with her mom. She enjoyed time with her family and friends, immersed herself in fellowship at Passion City Church, got involved in social justice projects, and soaked up Scripture.
This was no small decision. While the WNBA is the world’s premiere women’s basketball league, it certainly doesn’t pay like it. To cash in on their small window of fame, many top U.S. players sign lucrative contracts to play in Asia, Europe or the Middle East that dwarf their WNBA deals, sometimes paying 10 times as much.
“I just wanted to stop and rest and make this offseason about going to church and slowing down and letting the Lord be the Lord without me going 100 miles per hour—just recharging my spiritual disciplines,” Moore says. “I had to create space in my schedule to do that. I felt like to do that, I had to stay home from overseas and sacrifice a lot of money I could’ve made to connect with the Lord. That’s the strongest relationship in my life. He’s been awesome to refill me.”
Now, it’s on to the 2017 season. With championships in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the Lynx seemed to be on an odd-year title schedule. Is another celebration in the works for this fall?
“I hope so,” Moore says. “That’s what we’ll be fighting for.”
Like all great athletes, Moore is intensely competitive. But as a Christian, she benefits from an uncommon perspective after defeat.
“When I’m a part of a season that ended in a loss, it’s tough,” she says. “It’s never easy. But I’m not totally broken by a loss. I’m still a child of the King. I’m totally loved. I’m totally accepted. All the things that the Lord says are true of us as His children.”
In other words, with God as her Father, she can’t lose.
Bringing It Home Devotional: Beyond the Barriers
By Sarah Rennicke
“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:17
To be overlooked, forgotten, silenced or squelched was not in God’s design. He first set His sights deliberately on each person on this planet, with great plans and purpose for us all.
The problem is, sin slithered in and scattered its poison, keeping many of God’s children crippled from becoming who He desires them to be.
Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore takes Scripture to heart when it says to stand up to injustice and defend the cause of the downtrodden. As her love for God’s Word grew, so did her desire to put her faith into action. She operates on behalf of others—not through obligation, but love—and is quick to use her star status to speak up for those unable to do so themselves. It is a position she doesn’t take lightly and one she views as a privilege.
But Moore reminds us that serving those who suffer is not a choice; it’s a responsibility.
“We are to be Christ’s hands and feet,” she said.
Jesus Himself came to set the captive free, comfort the brokenhearted, and bring good news to the poor. His life on Earth made frequent stops of service to those in need of physical and spiritual healing: reaching beyond the barriers of touch to heal a leper, giving sight to the blind, and saving a woman from a societal stoning were causes He adamantly defended.
What we do for the least of these, we do for the King. It’s not a conditional clause; it’s a mandate from the Master.
As Moore said, “Turning a blind eye to injustice is the opposite of what the gospel means.”
It is a grace-fueled gospel that gets her going, defending those incapable of speaking for themselves. From Jesus’ radical call to obedience by love and humility, we too should consider others better than ourselves and bend our hearts to hear their cries for mercy.
Our lives can become an outspoken testimony God can use to scatter His heart throughout the lonely, defenseless and despondent. When we allow the Spirit to move within us, we can step outside of ourselves and see the faces around us as Christ does. We are moved to act on behalf of those who might otherwise be lost on the outer margins of society, but who are still seen by their Father.
Let’s step across cultural, emotional and physical barriers and extend an invitation to become unified in Christ. By bringing Christ’s gospel through our actions and words, we truly do become His body, reaching out to touch and soothe a stinging world.
• Have you considered yourself as a spokesperson for the defenseless? What charge is God giving you today?
• What if you let the Holy Spirit move you to reach out around your community? Where might He lead?
• How can you and your team find a way to help a cause or person together?
Father, I’m glad that you see every single person, know their struggles and what they need. You have put me in places to fight for Your people in the best ways I can. Help me to see those around me and look for opportunities to speak up in Your name, to help Your hands extend into this hurting world. Amen.
Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx