WNBA’s Maya Moore sacrifices season to help free man from prison

Basketball star dedicates her life to justice, helping her friend Jonathan Irons get exonerated for a crime he did not commit

Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons (Instagram)

Maya Moore met Jonathan Irons before her freshman year of college through a prison ministry program in 2007. She and the man became fast friends, and she dedicated herself to seeing him released from prison.

After sacrificing her 2019 professional basketball season, her dedication paid off and he now has his freedom.

READ MORE: ‘America’s Got Talent’ contestant, exonerated from prison after 37 years, gets ‘chance of a lifetime’ and praise from Simon Cowell

Irons was convicted in 1998 of burglary and assault with a weapon of a suburban St. Louis homeowner. At the time, he was 16 but was charged as an adult.

The owner of the home testified that it was Irons who broke into his home. However, there were no other witnesses, fingerprints, or DNA linking him to the crime. An all-white jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

When Irons was released from Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center, he had already served 22 years of that sentence. His advocate, Maya Moore, was there to greet him.

In 2019, Moore, a Jefferson City native, put her WNBA career on pause and committed to helping Irons have his conviction overturned. A judge vacated the sentence in March but had placed a stay on the order allowing the state to appeal. They did, twice. Which meant it was another few months before Irons would be released.

Moore was present when her friend walked out of prison where she applauded and then fell to her knees. She shared the moment on Instagram.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Maya Moore (@mooremaya) on

The WNBA star was the first overall draft pick in 2011, selected to go play with the Minnesota Lynx. Before her “ministerial sabbatical,” she led her team to four WNBA titles. She was the WNBA Rookie of the Year her first year, league MVP in 2014, and a five-time All-Star.

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

31-year-old Moore also announced that she would not be playing in the 2020 season, and removed herself from consideration to join the U.S. Olympic team, even prior to the coronavirus pandemic. She told The Associated Press that her “decision to take another year was bigger than this case.”

She said, “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s new podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!