Just nine months ago, Nike recreated the iconic Michael Jordan “Wings” poster from 1985 with a four-time champion and five-time All-Star.
Minnesota Lynx star and UConn legend Maya Moore stood with arms outstretched, one hand clutching a basketball, and stared out at passersby in Minneapolis. The billboard was unveiled the same day as the video of Moore’s career highlights, featuring the famous pose and ending with an endorsement from Jordan.
“No bird soars too high if she soars with her own wings,” Jordan says.
Now, the star Jordan himself found worthy of recreating a part of his past is soaring in a different direction. After eight seasons in the WNBA, Moore announced Tuesday that she will sit the 2019 season out to pursue a different set of goals.
In a story for The Players’ Tribune, Moore said she’s always known her purpose is to “know Jesus and to make Him known” and that’s what she intends to focus on this year.
“My focus in 2019 will not be on professional basketball, but will instead be on the people in my family, as well as on investing my time in some ministry dreams that have been stirring in my heart for many years,” Moore wrote. “I will certainly miss the day-to-day relationships with my teammates and basketball family this season, but my no for the 2019 pro season allows me to say yes to my family and faith family like I never have before.”
Moore has been one of the WNBA’s most recognizable stars, winning four championships and winning Rookie of the Year, regular season MVP and Finals MVP in her time in the league. She’s also won two Olympic gold medals. She’s not the first major star to take a season off, though. Fellow UConn alum Diana Taurasi took the 2015 season off to ensure her health for the upcoming season overseas, which reportedly paid more than the Phoenix Mercury. She returned for the following season well rested and ready to lead the Mercury again.
Moore and UConn coach Geno Auriemma talked over the summer, Auriemma said, and he thought she might be coming to this decision.
“It’s probably a big surprise to a lot of people because she’s still in the prime of her career, really,” Auriemma said. “She’s had so much success when you think about it. But people change as they get older. Things that were not as important become really important. She sees something out there that she feels like she has to devote more of her time to, and I’m all for it. If that’s what you’ve got to do, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Prior to entering the WNBA, Moore was one of Auriemma’s most successful players. She boasts a number of program records, including most points, highest scoring average and most field goals made in a career. She won two national championships, was named national Player of the Year twice and was named a first-team All-American four times.
Moore’s decision has been met with understanding from not only Auriemma, but also other athletes who have taken to social media to support her. While the Lynx will be missing out on a key player this season, coach Cheryl Reeve also gave Moore her support in a statement shortly after the announcement.
“As she recently shared, Maya has expressed a need to shift her attention more fully to family and ministry dreams in a way that she has been unable to as a professional basketball player,” Reeve said. “We support her in this exploration and will continue to provide her the love and care she has always known from her Lynx family.”
The WNBA will be missing out on one of its biggest stars — a player who has brought more recognition and success to the league since entering it. She has yet to indicate whether she’ll be making her return in 2020 or sitting out longer, but Auriemma believes she’ll be back. And until then, the WNBA will have to survive without her.
“Obviously the league’s going to survive. There will be somebody who comes along, and I’m not sure Maya’s done for good,” Auriemma said. “It might just be ‘I need a break,’ or ‘I need to explore something that’s right now inside of me.’ What she’s done for that franchise in Minnesota and how she’s put a stamp on winning in that league in such a short period of time, between the NCAA Championships and the WNBA Championships and the world championships and the Olympics, it’s a lot. I don’t know that we’ve heard the last of her. That would be my guess.”
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