For Maya Moore, the road to the top began in a long hallway covered in brown carpet. She was about 3 years old, she thinks, a self-described “very high-energy kid” looking for something to do.
“When I was young I would play with everything I could get my hands on, whether it was a soccer ball, basketball, football—any object that was round, I was trying to play with it and have fun,” Moore recalls.
At the time, Maya and her mother Kathryn lived in an apartment in Jefferson City, Missouri. Seeing that her only child needed ways to play and have fun, Kathryn placed a toy basketball hoop on the back of their apartment door. The brown hallway leading up to it became Moore’s court.
“I would run up and down the hallway trying to shoot or dunk and score,” she says. “I would run as fast as I could. I don’t know if I crashed into the door. I probably did. I definitely remember I had to get a couple of hoops, because I would break them, at least two. And my mom would get me another one because she’s such a nice mom.”
Moore’s often-aggressive solo games of hall ball sparked a love affair with basketball that has spanned more than two decades and counting. Her passion and high-energy play have brought her multiple championships—at the high school, collegiate, professional and Olympic level.
Today Moore plays pro ball year-round, spending her summers leading the two-time WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx and her winters competing internationally. Earlier this year, she won a third consecutive title for the Shanxi Xing Rui Flame by knocking off a Beijing team led by Brittney Griner. Call it payback, since Griner’s Phoenix Mercury bested Moore’s Lynx in last year’s WNBA Finals.
Although her collection of championship hardware seems to grow every year, Moore forged her winning ways as a youth in Jefferson City. Around the time she was 8 years old, three things happened that set Moore on the course that led her to where she is today.
For starters, her mother gave Maya her first full-sized hoop as a birthday present. “It was one of those kind that you can put water or sand into the bottom and has wheels, so you can roll it onto a flat surface and adjust the height with a broomstick,” Moore says. “I put it at the end of our driveway on the curb, and I figured out how to kick the ball on the ground so it would hit the curb and pop up so I could give myself an alley-oop. I thought that hoop was the coolest thing ever.”
Moore had been practicing with an AAU team since she was 7, but she was deemed too young to play in games. When she turned 8, she was able to start competing with Jefferson City’s 10-and-under team. She says, “I played on 10-and-under for two years, and from then on I played up an age level, which helped me to get better and face tougher competition, because I was always the youngest one out there.”
The third and perhaps most significant development that set Moore on her course to stardom didn’t involve her at all—at the time. “When I was 8 years old, the WNBA became what it is,” she says.
The existence of a professional basketball league for women opened up new worlds of possibility. “It was awesome to be able to look up to both NBA players and WNBA players, and to grow up knowing that being a basketball player as a female was cool.”
The league changed Moore’s outlook on her future and herself. “You had a certain kind of swagger about you, because you could say you wanted to grow up to be a pro basketball player, and it was a possibility,” she says.
By the time she reached middle school, Moore could tell that her play was separating her from her peers. She became even more dominant in high school, leading a team that lost only three times during her four years at Collins Hill High School in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Losing remained a rare experience for Moore during her time at UConn, where she won two national championships in four collegiate seasons.
By the summer of 2011, the then 22-year-old Moore found herself realizing her childhood dream as a first-year player in the WNBA. She says, “Some of those heroes who I’d grown up watching, suddenly I’m trying to box them out on a free throw. It was really cool.” Her hustle and high level of play helped bring the Lynx their first-ever championship that year, and Moore earned Rookie of the Year honors.
Win or lose, Moore says the most important thing for her today is to play the game the right way, and to pass on her passion to the next generation of young women, who are out there practicing in their driveways, or maybe even their apartment hallways.
“There’s nothing so humbling as having a parent come up to you and tell you about the impact you or your teammates have had on their kid in a positive way,” Moore says. “It really opens your eyes, and you realize that the little things you do on the court, like showing respect to your teammates or coaches, they get noticed. Somebody’s 11-year-old is watching.”
Maya Moore By the Numbers
26 years old
23 — Her number. She wore 32 until she got to UConn, where her teammate Kalana Greene already held that number. Moore: “So I said, hmmm, I don’t want to fight her for this jersey. Not physically fight her, but I’d probably have to do something. LeBron was in Cleveland wearing 23, and obviously Michael Jordan wore 23, so I said, Hey, let’s go with this.”
125-3 — the won-loss record of her high school team (Collins Hill High School, Gwinnett County, Georgia)
3 — Georgia state championships her team won during that time
11 — championships Moore has won since high school, including 2 national titles at UConn, 2 WNBA titles, 2 World Championships, 1 Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA, and 4 championships for teams in Europe or China.
4 — Number of times she was named an All-American at UConn
90 — Consecutive games her teams won at UConn—a streak that spanned three seasons
1-1 — her record in professional championship games against Brittney Griner (Source: WNBA.com)
More from Moore
The hot-handed scorer offers some hot takes on . . .
“Seek out character people. You can have all the talent and resources in the world, but if you don’t keep quality people around you, and you’re not a quality person yourself, then you’ll spoil it. You’ll ruin it. You’ll look back and say, Dang, I wasted that.”
“Every year I’ve gone overseas, I’ve won a championship. The Euroleague was probably one of the harder ones [to win], just because a lot of WNBA players go over, and the best European players are there as well. But a WNBA championship is the number one hardest.”
“Losing is something that people don’t get to see me do on camera a lot because of the preparation I do before game time. I lose a lot in practice. We put ourselves in almost impossible situations and see if we can get out of them, and we don’t always do it. But that builds character, to bounce back when things don’t go your way.”
If I wasn’t a pro athlete, I’d be involved in music somehow, I’m always singing everywhere I go. One of my teammates Janel [McCarville], is always like, Maya, where’s the music? It’s my job to be the entertainment.”
“I love to read. I read a lot of faith-based books, biographies, and books about real life topics.”
“I don’t have to necessarily be out and about. I’m kind of a homebody. I like chilling, relaxing and having a good conversation with somebody.”