WNBA’s Maya Moore taking second straight season off to focus on freeing inmate

Maya Moore #23 of the Minnesota Lynx pumps up the crowd in the final minute of Game Five of the 2017 WNBA Finals. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

WNBA star Maya Moore is taking off a second straight year from the league to fight for the release of Jonathan Irons, whom she believes is wrongly incarcerated.

“I’m in a really good place right now with my life, and I don’t want to change anything,” Moore, a forward for the Minnesota Lynx, told The New York Times in an interview. “Basketball has not been foremost in my mind. I’ve been able to rest, and connect with people around me, actually be in their presence after all of these years on the road. And I’ve been able to be there for Jonathan.”

READ MORE: WNBA star Maya Moore fights to get friend’s 50-year conviction overturned

Irons, 39, who is Black, was sentenced to 50 years in prison by an all-white jury in a 1997 burglary and assault with a handgun conviction, according to the Times. The homeowner was shot in the head during the assault and testified that Irons was his attacker. However, there were no witnesses, fingerprints, DNA, or any other evidence that linked Irons to the crime. Irons was 16 at the time of the incident and was tried as an adult.

Moore met Irons in 2007 while visiting Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center as part of a prison ministry. Irons became close to Moore and her family.

Prosecutors said Irons told a police officer that he committed the crime. But Irons says this is a lie. The officer interrogated Irons by himself and never recorded the conversation.

When Moore announced last winter that she was taking off a year from the WNBA to support Irons, it stunned the basketball world. Many expected her to return to the Olympics this summer and the WNBA, where she has led the Minnesota Lynx to four championships since her 2011 rookie season, according to the Times.

READ MORE: Maya Moore wants to push the WNBA to ‘another level’

Still, many were supportive of her decision.

In a statement released Wednesday, Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx’s coach and general manager said: “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. We are proud of the ways that Maya is advocating for justice and using her platform to impact social change.”

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” added Carol Callan, director of the United States national team, to The New York Times. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

It is unclear when and if Moore will return to basketball although she says she’s not ready to retire.

“I don’t feel like this is the right time for me to retire,” Moore told The Times. “Retirement is something that is a big deal and there is a right way to do it well, and this is not the time for me.”