Maya Moore made her WNBA debut in 2011 for the Minnesota Lynx and has since become one of the league's most recognizable stars in history, picking up six All-Star appearances and a league MVP award in 2014.
When Moore made her debut, Jonathan Irons was serving year number 13 of a 50-year sentence after he was found guilty of a burglary and assault charge at age 16.
Now, after nine years in the WNBA and 22 years in prison, the two figures' incredibly inspirational story and connection has resulted in the release of Irons and one very happy, very proud Maya Moore.
Moore was introduced to Irons in 2007 when she visited the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri, where Irons was being held, according to Kurt Streeter of the New York Times. The case was one that Irons' defense team said was filled with errors, including faulty testimony and a lack of a recorded interrogation between the police and Irons. It was one which Moore took such exception to, especially because her family had become close with Irons through a prison ministry, that she decided to sacrifice years of her playing career, potentially at her peak, in order to find justice for her wrongly convicted, "sibling-like" friend.
That sacrifice involved sitting out of the entire 2019 season after a stellar 2018 campaign in which she recorded 18 points and five rebounds per contest, nabbing her sixth All-Star selection. But this case trumped the importance of her basketball career, and the Minnesota Lynx supported her decision when she decided to do once again sit out in 2020.
“Over the last year we have been in frequent contact with Maya around the great work in criminal justice reform and ministry in which she is fully engaged," Minnesota Lynx head coach and GM Cheryl Reeve said in a statement from January of this year. "We are proud of the ways that Maya is advocating for justice and using her platform to impact social change.”
Moore spent the time off helping to pay for Irons' defense, attending courtroom sessions and ministering in Atlanta to discuss flaws in the justice system (via Streeter). Clearly, all the hard work paid off, as the video above shows, and several figures in sports lauded Moore's effort with great respect, including the aforementioned Reeve.
Scott Van Pelt of ESPN called it the best thing he saw not only today, but "in a long, long time." He also added on that Maya Moore is the only athlete he has ever sent a personal, handwritten note to out of pure awe and inspiration of her commitment and her cause.
While her WNBA future remains uncertain, seeing this massive accomplishment checked off her list may mean that she can return to the game she loves. Whatever her decision, she deserves the utmost respect and support for the ultimate display of commitment and dedication to a cause and completely changing a man's life for the better.