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Ex-WNBA star Maya Moore is retiring after overturning husband's wrongful conviction

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When it comes to basketball resumes, the resume of Maya Moore is pretty flawless - two national titles at the University of Connecticut, four WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx, two Olympic gold medals. I mean, it is the kind of career that lands you at the top of greatest-of-all-time lists. But listing off her accomplishments on the court only gives you a fraction of the story. At the height of her career, Maya Moore announced that she was skipping the 2019 season. She was burned out, for one, but she also felt a calling to focus on the case of Jonathan Irons, a man serving a 50-year sentence for a crime we now know he did not commit. That man is now free and he has become her husband. And this week, Maya Moore announced her retirement from basketball. She and Jonathan Irons join us now.

Welcome to both of you.

MAYA MOORE: Thank you. Thank you.

JONATHAN IRONS: Hello. Hello.

CHANG: Hello. Hello. So I want to start with Maya first. Can I ask - I mean, you're only 33. And we're talking about a world where, like, Tom Brady is trying to play football until he's, like, 80 years old. Are you sure there is no come back, say, like, five years from now?

MOORE: I do not have a desire to play until I'm 80. Let's first of all put that on the record.

CHANG: Now, I would become a basketball fan if that happened, if you were playing in your 80s.

MOORE: That would be something, right? No. I just - I've been able to be a part of so many great teams and winning championships. And there's nothing more I could ask for for a basketball career. It's really beautiful to be at this point where I'm so excited about this next chapter with getting a chance to have a rhythm that's more rooted at home and connected with my community and present for my family and getting a chance to, you know, raise our little boy together. And I definitely do not plan on making one of those Michael Jordan comebacks.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: You sound very peacefully resolved. I want to step back a little because I so want to hear a bit more about how you and Jonathan first met. Jonathan, can you tell me about that?

IRONS: Well, I was in the prison visiting room. And Maya's godparents, Cheri and Reggie Williams, they had been coming to see me every weekend for years at that point.

CHANG: Because they were very interested in your case.

IRONS: Yes, and just also interested in me as a person. But in the visiting room, Maya walked in. And she was just such a warm, humble, inviting person. And she looked me in the eyes and just - she didn't look away or shriek in fear or look at me like I was less than because I was very familiar with those looks and how that felt. And we just hung out. And we kicked it and had fun. And we just continued to grow our friendship.

CHANG: And at what moment did that friendship turn into something a little more than friendship?

IRONS: I don't think there was a moment. I think it was a kind of like building a brick house, you know, one brick at a time. And before you know it, you have a whole house. And you just can't identify one brick out of the whole brick house that basically stood out, which also gives us a firm foundation because we got to know each other. We got to know each other's character and got to walk with each other and experienced - encouraging each other in low moments in our lives. And we made time to talk to each other because she had a busy life that she was involved in.

And I had a busy life that I was involved in, that basically I had to survive. And I was fighting for my freedom and all these different things. And she was out dominating, taking championships left and right, you know, leaving horror to her opponents in the wake of her, you know, coming on the court. I think just knowing that we were both there for each other. And we weren't going to turn and look away and go in a different direction. Like, we were locked on to each other at a heart level, you know.

CHANG: Yeah.

MOORE: We just developed a profound respect for each other. And that respect and that affection, God wove it together to become a deep love. And that's where we have been now for the last almost 10 years and have that in marriage now for 2 1/2 years, which is crazy. Time is flying. Now, the time is flying. Before, it was dragging on. But now, the time is flying.

CHANG: Well, I mean, there was so much attention around your and Jonathan's story as it was happening. And after Jonathan was released in 2020, you both got married. You had a child, as we mentioned. Like, how hard, how tough has it been getting on with a normal life?

IRONS: It hasn't been the easiest because I've come from, you know, for lack of a better word, I come from a savage land. And I've lived there for over half my life. And I've kept my head on a swivel, you know. And then here I am, I'm coming out here and just, you know, just trying to decompress. And I remember one day I was - a police officer got behind me and - oh, my God, I almost had a heart attack. I pulled off and went into this lot. And I had to calm down and realize, like, I was OK. And it was rough. And then also, like, Maya and I just growing, like living with each other, we have different experiences.

And so we had to slow down and break down like what we meant or really help each other understand each other. And then on top of that, like, I'm having nightmares and waking up in the middle of the night breaking off in sweat because I'm reliving or remembering something that I had to deal with in prison. And it's still uncomfortable and difficult to actually even talk about the facts of my case. It just - I really try to avoid it. But I know talking about it, it just - it helps me process it and move on a little by little each day that I'm able to do it.

CHANG: How about for you, Maya? How different was the married life you imagined compared to the married life that you are living with Jonathan?

MOORE: I learned walking with Jonathan and walking with God. You know, our faith in our relationship with God is the foundation of everything that we do. And I feel like the Lord showed me. I was hoping for things with kind of more of a narrow vision of how I would want it to unfold, when, in fact, what's going to happen could be more beautiful, more mysterious and more creative than I can even envision. And so I started to approach this journey with more of an open hand and an open mind of...

CHANG: Yeah.

MOORE: ...What life is and how and how it happens. And I think it's been very helpful because it has been hard. There's layers of my life of transitioning from being a player to, you know, not playing and then transitioning as being a friend to Jonathan, you know, coming home, and then the dynamic of being married and then becoming parents. Like, that's a whole lot of life shift and life change all happening within the course of a couple of years.

And I think walking away from the game, restructuring my life to create space was just so crucial. Like, one of the biggest things that I've learned and is a centerpiece for our family is margin. Margin, margin, margin. Leave yourself margin to be human because there's going to there's going to be unexpected things that you got to give your attention to if you want to be well.

CHANG: Absolutely.

MOORE: So that's where we're at with just just trying to cultivate home and trying to heal because healing is, you know, it's going to be this lifelong process, right? So we are - we're trying to do that.

CHANG: Well, I wish the both of you - the three of you - the absolute best. Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons - they tell their story in a new book. It's called "Love And Justice: A Story Of Triumph On Two Different Courts." Thank you both so, so much.

MOORE: Thank you.

IRONS: Thank you. Yes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ailsa Chang
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Gabe O'Connor
Sarah Handel
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