Maya Moore to sit out second WNBA season in row to push for inmate's freedom

Ogwumike 'thrilled' with WNBA CBA improvements (1:21)

Chiney Ogwumike breaks down the notable points of the WNBA's new collective bargaining agreement, including increased player compensation and mental health resources. (1:21)

Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore will sit out a second consecutive WNBA season and has taken herself out of consideration for the Olympics so she can push for the release from prison of a Missouri man who she believes is innocent, she told The New York Times.

That man, 39-year-old Jonathan Irons, is serving a 50-year prison sentence for a conviction of burglary and assault of a man in his home with a weapon. Moore met Irons in 2017, when she visited the Jefferson City Correctional Center, where he is an inmate.

"I'm in a really good place right now with my life, and I don't want to change anything," Moore told the Times in a telephone interview this week. "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."

Irons was 16 at the time of the incident. The homeowner testified that Irons was the person who assaulted him, but Irons' lawyers say there is no evidence (witness, fingerprints, footprints, DNA) to corroborate that their client committed the crime. Irons, an African American who was living in poverty, was tried as an adult, and the all-white jury found him guilty.

Moore, 30, told the newspaper that she is not retired, despite her decision to sit out a second WNBA season in a row.

"I don't feel like this is the right time for me to retire," she 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."

Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said Wednesday in a statement issued by the club that the Lynx have "been in frequent contact" with Moore over the past year and praised her "fully engaged" effort in criminal justice reform and ministry.

Reeve did not address Moore's playing status.

"We are proud of the ways that Maya is advocating for justice and using her platform to impact social change," Reeve said.

Moore was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. With Moore, the Lynx went to the WNBA Finals six times. Last season, without her, the Lynx finished 18-16 and were the seventh seed in the postseason, losing to the Storm in the first round.

Moore was the WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2011, the league MVP in 2014 and a five-time All-Star. She has career averages of 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

The United States national team also said it supports Moore's decision.

"We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision," Carol Callan, director of the U.S. national team, said, according to the newspaper. "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. We know how devoted she is to what she believes in, and that what she is doing is remarkable."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.