WNBA's Maya Moore: 'The demand is real for our game'

By Alex Butler
WNBA's Maya Moore: 'The demand is real for our game'
United States basketball star Maya Moore (L) drives to the basket against France's Amel Bouderra at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. File Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 27 (UPI) -- She's had success on every possession.

Maya Moore was the National Player of the Year in high school before leading University of Connecticut to consecutive national championships. She entered the WNBA in 2011 as the No. 1 overall pick by the Minnesota Lynx and now has four WNBA titles. She was the league's MVP in 2014.


There were plenty of rulebooks and coaches along the way to help her craft those basketball skills, but Moore told UPI that there isn't a guide to read regarding the best way to navigate being a citizen and a pro athlete.

The 29-year-old perennial All-Star might be writing one without a pen. And she's helping to grow women's basketball along the way.

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"I see change coming in our future for us wanting to continue to grow our business of the game and our league," Moore said. "As players, we can be compensated better for the work that we do, the talent that we have, the great games that we put out there on the floor. I think with more visibility and more popularity, sponsors are going to continue to want to partner with us. The demand is real for our game."


The numbers bear out the growth of women's basketball. ESPN reported in June that its ratings for the WNBA's first three games of the season were up 58 percent on ESPN2 compared to the first three games during the 2017 campaign. But there is still room for improvement as the league's stars continually call for higher salaries, better marketing and improved working conditions.

WNBA voices aren't the only ones being heard regarding gender equality within the game. Serena Williams voiced her displeasure at being disciplined during the 2018 U.S. Open final, accusing a chair umpire of being "sexist" in his reprimands of Williams for infractions that she said wouldn't have warranted the same penalties for a male player.

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Moore says the fact that those conversations are happening is a positive step.

"There is err all around," Moore said. "Everybody can be better. But obviously you want to have standards that are kept. I think it comes down to respect. World-class athletes have clarity on expectations for themselves, but if they aren't treated with the respect for those expectations you are going to have problems. It's great to focus on improving the respect of the game and the respect of the athletes on both sides, for men and women.


"But obviously I think it needs to happen more on the women's side just because women in sports is kind of more of a phenomenon in our culture. There is room for progress for sure. The conversation happening is a good thing, as long as we continue on the path of conversation and action with a mutual respect," she said.

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Social justice

In 2016, Moore spoke at a news conference, flanked by teammates Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson. They all wore shirts reading "Change starts with us" as they discussed police brutality and called for social justice and accountability after the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and five police officers in Dallas.

"As a human being, we are citizens. And when we have an opportunity to influence our communities for what we hope is justice or something good or something powerful and strong, that can be helpful for our society," Moore said. "We are citizens, too. I thought we took that opportunity to come together to say that we are hurting for all of us, the police officers that were recently killed or the men of color who had recently been killed. And bringing up a larger issue of racism in our country that is real. So sharing our experience as women of color during that time was just helpful to help us grow as a community to talk about tough things in hopes that it brings growth and healing."


Moore pushes herself to step outside her comfort zone and spend time thinking, speaking and writing about issues like prosecutorial reform. Her godparents have been fighting to free Jonathan Irons, who they say was wrongfully convicted of murder. Irons has been imprisoned since 1997.

Moore is also an advocate of the End It Movement, shining a light on modern slavery.

Moore has said she knows the risk of losing fans for the league when she says something that can be controversial, but she persists.

One of the voices encouraging her along the way was UConn coach Gino Auriemma, who has said he wants his Husky players to be politically active. Moore says it is essential for sports stars to navigate the balance of citizenship and athletics.

Being coached up

While most basketball fans might think of Auriemma's name after hearing about UConn's brightest stars in the WNBA, Moore also had another coach help her reach greatness.

She is partnering with U.S. Cellular's Most Valuable Coach program to honor current K-12 school-affiliated impactful coaches. The public can vote for their favorite coaches among the top 50 nominees until Oct. 8 at The final three coaches will each get a donation for their school.


Moore said her nomination would be former Collins Hill High School basketball coach Angie Hembree.

"I remember her giving me so much inspiration by just being her," Moore said. "She used to motivate players on the court and off the court. She knew how to push us to work hard but also have fun."

Moore has achieved excellence on the basketball court, witnessed by her involvement in a 90-game winning streak at UConn. But something Auriemma told her as a college student-athlete still sticks out.

"He gave me this saying that talked about striving for perfection: 'Desiring to reach perfection, but don't require perfection.' It was so helpful I think because it was just a reminder of, yeah we are chasing perfection. We are trying to be undefeated, but if you require that from yourself to where anything else is a failure, that's not good.

"We are on this chase. We want to enjoy the chase. We don't want it to be so much pressure ... we want to strive for it. But it was just a really productive perspective. And this is coming from Gino -- he's really demanding, pushing us constantly -- but he took the time in that moment in the coaches office to remind me of a valuable lesson that life is bigger than basketball and we are human and we can make mistakes."


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