How Maya Moore Brings Style and Grace to the U.S. Olympic Women's Team
How Maya Moore Brings Style and Grace to the U.S. Olympic Women's Team
It's amazing what you can learn about a person in 140 characters or less.
Take the Twitter page of Maya Moore. Her mini-bio at the top is a good place to start:
Basketball player, daughter, & drummer. Friend & red velvet cake lover.
So few words, so much meaning.
Basketball player. And how! The youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team—now in London for the 2012 Games—Moore, 23, is not only one of the world's best but perhaps the winningest. Ever. Since ninth grade, the 6-foot forward has played almost 400 games, winning 97 percent of them. That includes three high-school state titles, two NCAA championships and a 90-game win streak at the University of Connecticut (as a two-time national player of the year), a WNBA crown with the Minnesota Lynx as the league's rookie of the year, and most recently, a EuroLeague championship with a pro team in Valencia, Spain. Now she hopes to add Olympic gold to the list.
Daughter. Moore can't say enough about her mother, Kathryn, who "has helped me to grow into a smart young woman who keeps things in perspective." Kathryn taught her only child—named after Maya Angelou—the value of faith, family, and hard work. When Moore was 11, Kathryn and her daughter left the comfort of extended family in Jefferson City, Missouri, and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Kathryn was starting a new job. "It was a hard, lonely time," Maya tells Christianity Today, remembering how middle-school kids mocked her height—she towered over everyone—and her size 13 shoes.
"It was tough," she says. "My mom and I had to figure out how to do things on our own. Like, were we going to go to church because we'd always done it before, or were we going to do it for ourselves because we want this in our life?" Moore says that around that time she began to "own" her faith, and has considered herself a Christ follower ever since. (Her father, former Rutgers basketball star Mike Dabney, left before she was born. They have reconnected in recent years, though Moore doesn't like to discuss it. "It's a relationship in progress, and God is faithful," she says.)
Drummer. Moore has been playing since age 9, and her love of music is second only to basketball. Her Twitter page includes retweets from TobyMac, LeCrae, and Chaz Miles, and links aplenty to hip-hop and gospel. She's forever wearing ear buds, constantly in motion, always in rhythm; spontaneous dance moves are inevitable. And singing, singing, singing. Moore led hundreds of fans in a chorus of "Glory to God Forever"—dividing the audience into three groups—at a Faith and Family Night following a Lynx game last summer. "The sound was like angels singing to our Lord," says teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who believes that if Moore ever blew out a knee, she could pursue a second career as a singer.
Friend. Those closest to Moore say this is her greatest asset. They describe her as selfless, sensitive, and ever encouraging. Tina Charles, who shared an apartment with Moore while they were teammates at UConn, says, "Maya is an extraordinary person, humble, giving. Living with Maya, I grew as a young woman. I looked up to her on and off the court. As a friend, she's going to be there for you in every possible way." Because of Moore's faithful witness, Charles says, she gave her own life to Jesus at 19.
Red velvet cake lover. We'll take her word for it.
Looking down Moore's Twitter page, one gleans more from the tweets. Like this one:
Thanks! Will represent! RT @UConn: @MooreMaya UConn is 100% behind you this summer! Good luck. #olympics http://s.uconn.edu/3k
That first word sums up Moore's grateful spirit. She says she's been "blessed with great people throughout my life. Great coaches, great teams, great opportunities. I just try to make the most of them and to be obedient to God. It's all a gift from the Lord."
Will represent! She cares about how she lives out her faith; Moore signs her autographs with Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord …" But that also goes for whatever team she's playing for—which is now the United States. "I'm super excited," she says. And she's thrilled to be reunited with her college coach, Geno Auriemma, who is helming the American squad: "To be able to play under him again, with some other former UConn players and teammates, is a joy." (Half of the 12 members of the U.S. team played for Auriemma at UConn.)
In that tweet, Moore links to a brief video that NBC filmed for its Olympics coverage. She talks about her childhood, her mom and extended family, her goal to play professionally. She mentions playing one-on-one with President Obama ("He's got a funky release on that jump shot," she says, "but that sucker goes in!"), the world stage of this month's London Games, and her faith. She looks into the camera and asks, "Am I glorifying God in everything I do?"
Other tweets capture more Olympic excitement—at meeting champions past (Carl Lewis and Gail Marquis) and present (Bryan Clay), and at giving an American flag to 88-year-old Raymond Lumpp, who played for the U.S. men's team in 1948: "Blessed to present flag to bball history," she writes.
Moore frequently tweets about prominent evangelicals—a news report about the death of Chuck Colson, a pithy remark from Rick Warren, a timeless truth from C. S. Lewis. There are retweets from Oswald Chambers, John Piper, Louie Giglio, and Joni Eareckson Tada, and Moore says she's currently reading books by Randy Alcorn, Max Lucado, and Skye Jethani. She's always looking to grow—in faith, in life, in her game. Life is a series of competitions, and she's always looking for an edge. She says those middle-school years were like "facing a team I'd never faced before, and they've just flattened us in the first half. How am I going to respond?"
On court and off, she usually responds victoriously.
"Maya is a winner all around," says Auriemma, who recruited Moore as a high-school All-American out of Atlanta. "She tries to win everything. If we're running a sprint, Maya tries to win. If we're trying to find out who's singing that song on the radio, Maya wants to be the one to get it. If we're doing a crossword puzzle, Maya wants to be the first one to get it. If somebody asks, 'Who's got the highest grade point average?' Maya wants to be that person." (And she often was; Moore graduated with a 3.67 GPA in sports and media promotion, and was a three-time academic All-American.)
When Moore says she's "super-competitive," I ask, "So, if we played just a friendly game of cards, would you absolutely hate it if I beat you?" She doesn't hesitate: "Absolutely. And I would make you play me again until I beat you."
I ask if friends and family ever ask her to lighten up. "No, they never say that. They just don't play me. Because they know."
Auriemma says that when Moore first arrived on campus, her confidence came with a dose of attitude. "As good as she is and as smart as she is, she was also very stubborn," he says. "This is what all winners do: They think they're never wrong." He says Moore "always had an excuse" when she'd make a mistake. "Finally, we just said, 'Maya, you'll be a lot better if you just listen rather than talk all the time.' I only had to say that once, and we never had to worry about it again."
When the game was on the line, Auriemma wanted the ball in Moore's hands.
"Some people make three-pointers when the team is already up by fifteen; Maya makes threes when you're down one in crucial times of the game," he says. "Some people get a steal when it doesn't mean anything; Maya gets a steal when it saves the game. That's what I mean when I say she's a winner."
Scroll down Moore's Twitter page, and you'll come across nuggets like these:
As we read Your Word, Lord, romance our hearts with an awareness & insight of your presence and Truth! Amen
Thankful for so much. Overwhelmed by God's grace!
I just want to do what God graced me to do. How 2 figure this out? Read His word & fellowship with Him & the people he's placed in my life.
When Michelle Backes, team chaplain for the Lynx, learned that Minnesota had picked Moore No. 1 in the draft, she contacted a friend who worked with Athletes in Action (AIA) at UConn. Moore had been active in AIA, and Backes's friend gave a promising report: "You are in for a treat. Maya is awesome."
Backes says it's true. "She's the real deal. And as serious as she is about basketball, she applies all of those disciplines in her spiritual life. And she's humble."
Big-name players—especially No. 1 draft picks—often think they're All That. Not Moore.
Players often grumble about rookie initiation rites, but Moore weathered hers with a smile. When veterans would kick balls all over the arena after practice, forcing the rookies to pick them up, Moore chased hers down as quickly as possible with nary a gripe. When teammates made her dress up like an old lady on a road trip, Moore "laughed and played along, and got into her character with gusto," says teammate McWilliams-Franklin. "She even made up a voice and a name for her old-lady persona. It was classic Maya, and it was hilarious. She could have been like, 'I'm Maya Moore, and I don't have to do this,' but she was very gracious, and it endeared her to us even more."
Even as a rookie, Moore was beginning to lead. Backes calls her a "servant leader. She's young and fun, but she has a very mature disposition, a depth that is noticeable. She knows that God has given her these gifts. She has basketball; it doesn't have her."
A few Lynx players meet regularly for Bible study, often at Moore's apartment, where she plays the roles of both Mary and Martha. Says Backes, "Here's the WNBA Rookie of the Year, winner of all these awards, and she's running around, 'You want water? Something to eat? Can I get you anything?'?" And when the study begins (last year they went through the Book of Acts), Moore becomes a sponge, soaking it all in.
At the end of the season, Moore and a few teammates took Backes and another chaplain out to lunch. "She could've just given us gift certificates," says Backes, "but she wanted to spend time with us." And then Moore literally gave Backes the shirt off her back: When the restaurant cranked up its air conditioning and Backes started to shiver, Moore took off her jacket and put it over the chaplain's shoulders. "How about that?" marvels Backes. "She's always putting others first."
Her Life Does the Talking
Moore embraces being a role model, hanging out after games and spending time in the community with fans. "She is always waiting with a smile, a handshake, an autograph, a kind word," says McWilliams-Franklin. Moore works with the NBA's Hoop Troop program, which helps young kids learn about the game. And she hosts an annual Very Maya Christmas—a free basketball clinic and community celebration at her old high school in Atlanta.
She is also working with her mother to create a foundation that will "give back" in some way. But female basketball stars are rarely rich: an NBA first-round pick might earn $5 million as a rookie; Moore earned a reported $45,000. The real money for women is in Europe, where they often quadruple their wnba salary; one star, Diana Taurasi, reportedly earns $500,000 a year with a team in Moscow. And Moore—with her winning smile and affable manner—also earns an unspecified amount in endorsements; she is the only female athlete contracted with Nike's Jordan Brand. Says Michael Jordan, Moore's sports idol, "Not only has Maya proven to be a prolific winner on the court, her hunger and determination to make an impact off the court makes her a valuable addition to the Jordan family."
McWilliams-Franklin is certainly glad she's with the Lynx family.
"Often in the WNBA, with players who call themselves Christians, their words and actions do not match up with their faith," she says. "Yet Maya truly loves the Lord and shows it in her demeanor. She lets her light shine through her actions. She lets her life do the talking."
Which brings us back to Moore's Twitter page. Always tweeting. Free as a bird.
"I often use the word free to remind myself that God wants me to live my life and compete on the court free in him," she says. "Free to play great, free to make a mistake, free to learn from them. Of course I want to win and play well, but no matter the result, I want to look back at the performance knowing I've honored the Lord."
Whatever happens, you can bet she'll tweet about it.
Mark Moring is senior associate editor at CT.