We’re often asked to sum up in one word something that completely defies such brevity. In describing Maya Moore as a basketball player, let’s use a one-word series.
Graceful. Energetic. Fluid. Explosive. Clutch. Durable. Consistent. Powerful. Competitive. Joyful.
Anyone lucky enough to witness Moore’s college, WNBA and international careers is likely to say she was one of their all-time favorite athletes to watch. You didn’t have to be cheering for Moore’s team to be swept away by what you saw. You just had to see it.
Moore, who on Monday officially announced her retirement as a player, was a 6-foot dominating guard for both the UConn Huskies and Minnesota Lynx. She made 3-pointers and pull-up jumpers and feathery, finger-roll layups that appeared as effortless to her as taking a breath. Sometimes it seemed as if Moore was just floating through the air when everyone else was stuck on the ground.
She took exciting chances on defense, going for the steal and breakaway basket that another player might not even imagine. She looked for open teammates and passed them the ball, despite also being one of the game’s greatest scorers. She didn’t flinch from the outcome being in her hands at crunch time, yet credited everyone else.
It was never as easy as Moore made it look, but she let us enjoy thinking it was. She played basketball like the pianist who makes it appear as if a difficult piece of music simply flows from her fingers like magic, without the countless, aching hours of work. Moore was so much fun in the way that gifted performers are when they appreciate and cultivate their talent truly as a gift.
“When I was playing, I always tried to bring energy,” Moore said Monday on a video call with the media. “I always tried to bring light and joy and an intensity to what I was doing.”
Moore will be remembered for her social justice commitment and the fact she left probable championships and awards on the table when she stepped away from the sport at age 29 to focus on things bigger to her than basketball. But she was already a sure-fire Hall of Famer by then.
And while there is so much to say about Moore the person and activist — who she has been and will continue to be — we share 10 of the best games, moments and memories of Moore the legendary basketball player.
10. The first goodbye: 2011 NCAA semifinals
Moore lost just four games in her UConn career, including her last in a Huskies uniform. But she put on a great show in that Final Four game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on April 3, 2011, in Indianapolis. Moore had 36 points, eight rebounds, two assists, four steals and a blocked shot as she played all 40 minutes in a 72-63 loss.
“I don’t know that you could wish for somebody better to spend four years with,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards.
Moore said while she wanted to cherish her time at UConn, the ending was, “Just tough because it’s the current taste in my mouth now. I’ll just have to deal with it.”
Eight days later, she was the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick by the Lynx, and six months after that she won her first WNBA title.
9. The first perfect ending: 2009 NCAA final
Moore said one of her fondest UConn memories was how hard the Huskies worked in the 2008-09 preseason after falling in the Final Four semifinals to the Stanford Cardinal in 2008. Their toil paid off as they had the first of two consecutive 39-0 seasons .
The 2009 Final Four was in St. Louis, Missouri, the state Moore was born and grew up in before moving to Georgia. Nothing was going to stop the Huskies once they were there. After beating Stanford in the semifinals to avenge the previous season’s loss, UConn defeated the Louisville Cardinals 76-54 for the championship on April 7, 2009. Tina Charles had a monster game with 25 points and 19 rebounds, but Moore added 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.
8. A quartet of gold: 2016 Olympic final
Moore won her fourth gold medal in a major international competition — two in the Summer Olympics and two in the FIBA Women’s World Cup — on Aug. 20, 2016, at the Rio de Janeiro Games in Brazil. Auriemma was Team USA’s head coach for all four of those events, starting with the 2010 FIBA World Cup when Moore was still a senior at UConn.
In the Americans’ 2016 gold-medal game, a 101-72 win over Spain, Moore had 14 points, five rebounds and six assists. She averaged 12.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in her last Olympics.
7. The dynasty does it again: 2017 WNBA Finals Game 5
The Lynx lost a heartbreaking Game 5 in 2016 on their home court when the Los Angeles Sparks took the WNBA title with a 77-76 victory. The same two teams played for the championship again in 2017, but renovation work at Target Center meant the Lynx’s home playoff games were at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena.
“The Barn” was a cacophony for Game 5, which the Lynx won 85-76 on Oct. 4, 2017. In winning her fourth and final WNBA title, Moore had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
6. The WNBA breakthrough: Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference finals
The Lynx made the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history with a 103-86 victory at Phoenix on Sept. 25, 2011, as they swept the series 2-0.
Moore, a rookie, went 6-for-8 on 3-pointers on the way to 21 points, with seven rebounds and five assists.
5. The Final Four return: 2008 Elite Eight victory
After winning three consecutive NCAA titles in 2002, ’03 and ’04, the Huskies did not make the Final Four in 2005, ’06 or ’07. Then Moore came to UConn in the fall of 2007, and the Huskies haven’t missed a Final Four since.
In a 66-56 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the regional final in Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 1, 2008, then-freshman Moore led more with her energy than scoring. She had seven points, five rebounds and five steals.
4. The homecoming, Part II: Game 3 of the 2013 WNBA Finals
Moore had 23 points to lead Minnesota to an 86-77 victory on Oct. 10, 2013, as the Lynx got another sweep of the Atlanta Dream for their second WNBA championship.
This time, the clinching game was played in suburban Atlanta, at the arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia. It was the perfect fit for Moore, who had led Collins Hill High School to three consecutive Georgia state championship-game victories at the same arena.
3. The homecoming, Part I: Game 3 of the 2011 WNBA Finals
Moore capped her Rookie of the Year season with 15 points and seven rebounds as the Lynx finished a sweep of the Atlanta Dream 73-67 on Oct. 7, 2011.
Moore, who had gone to high school in the Atlanta area and got to win this title back home, said it is one of her favorite basketball memories, in part because teammate Seimone Augustus was named Finals MVP. It was Minnesota’s first WNBA title.
2. The rally: Second half of 2010 NCAA championship game
UConn was trying to close a second consecutive perfect season, but the Huskies and Stanford Cardinal had just played one of the ugliest halves of basketball in NCAA title game history. The Cardinal led 20-12 at the break, but UConn didn’t panic. “Just no fear,” is how Moore put it.
The junior scored 11 of UConn’s first 17 points in the second half. The Huskies won 53-47 on April 6, 2010, behind Moore’s 23 points and 11 rebounds, and earned their seventh NCAA championship.
“It’s what great players do,” Auriemma said of her performance.
1. The dagger: Buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer in Game 3 of 2015 WNBA Finals
Moore’s winning shot at the buzzer to beat the Indiana Fever and take a 2-1 series lead was huge both in the moment and in context. It was her fourth trey that night, as she finished with 24 points. It meant the Fever couldn’t clinch the title at home as they had done three years earlier against the Lynx.
In Game 3 of the 2012 Finals, the Fever took a 2-1 lead with a rare playoff blowout of Minnesota. Then Indiana sewed up the championship at home in Game 4. It looked as if Minnesota might be facing the same scenario in 2015, a season in which injuries had made the Lynx vulnerable.
But with 1.7 seconds left, Moore took the inbounds pass, pump-faked and dribbled right to lose her defender, and hit the 3-pointer from the top of the key for an 80-77 win on Oct. 9, 2015. The Fever took Game 4, but the Lynx then had the chance to go home and win the title on Target Center’s floor, which they did.