Christian basketball star and Olympic gold medalist Maya Moore, who has taken a two-year sabbatical from the Women’s National Basketball Association, has married a man whom she advocated for years to get released after serving over two decades in prison.
The Minnesota Lynx forward and five-time all-star revealed on Good Morning America Wednesday that she has married Jonathan Irons, a 40-year-old who served 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was released in July after advocacy from his now-wife.
The couple told host Robin Roberts that they have been married for a couple of months and explained that Irons formally proposed to her after his release.
“We wanted to announce today that we are super excited to continue the work that we’ve been doing together and doing it as a married couple. We got married a couple of months ago,” Moore said, as Irons raised his left hand to show off his ring to the camera.
“We are excited to continue this new chapter of life together.”
Irons was 16 years old in 1998 when he was convicted of shooting a homeowner in suburban St. Louis. Irons was later picked out of a police photograph lineup. Even though he maintained his innocence, Irons was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison in Jefferson City where he was reportedly befriended by Moore’s godparents in the mid-2000s.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Moore’s godparents met Irons through a prison ministry program while he was serving at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri. Moore was introduced to Irons in 2007 when she was 18.
In 2019, Moore announced that she would take a hiatus from the sport to advocate full-time for Irons and helped to fund his legal defense by hiring attorney Kent Gipson, an expert in post-conviction defense.
Gipson filed a petition for a write of habeas corpus on grounds that the prosecution failed to disclose a fingerprint at the scene of the crime that was not identified as belonging to either Irons or the victim.
In March, a Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel R. Green vacated Irons’ convictions on grounds the prosecution failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in Irons’ case.
The 31-year-old Moore stepped away from the game during the height of her basketball career so she could fight for Irons’ freedom.
Roberts commented: “Jonathan put a ring on it and has got a ring himself.”
“There are people who are jumping up and down right now because when they saw you on our air [before], they wondered ‘is there something going on between these two?”
But Roberts pointed out that going into her advocacy for Irons that Moore had “no idea who he was” and “had family and friends who introduced you to him.”
Moore, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 WNBA draft, said that she met Irons when she was about going into her freshman year at the University of Connecticut. Her godparents introduced her to him and told her about his story and case.
“He had been imprisoned for over a decade at that point and I had been interested in learning and got to know him,” she said. “Over the last 13 years, we have just developed a friendship and entered into this huge battle to get him home.”
“Over time, it was pretty clear what the Lord was doing in our hearts,” she added. “Now we are sitting here today and starting a whole new chapter together.”
Irons said that a few years back when Moore was on a visit in prison, they both “acknowledged that we had really strong feelings for each other.”
“It was so much so that I wanted to marry her but at the same time protect her. Because being in a relationship with a man in prison is extremely difficult and painful,” he said. “I didn’t want her to feel trapped. I wanted her to feel open and have the ability to any time if this is too much for you, go and find somebody and live your life because this is hard. But at the same time, she was like, ‘I am here now.’ I said, ‘I want to ask you something … will you marry me?’”
Irons said he told Moore not to answer the question right away but to wait until he was released.
“In my mind, I didn’t know if I would be home,” he said. “She is such an amazingly beautiful person, I could never trap her and not let her fulfill her dreams of being a wife and a mother one day.”
But soon after he was released, Irons said that he got down on his knee and asked if she would marry him.
Moore said “yes.”
Now, the couple is teaming up in a get-out-the-vote campaign, encouraging others to “vote for justice” through their organization Win With Justice.
“Right now we are basically just trying to educate the public and get them engaged in the voting process and get them more involved in what is going on with our country and our government in local jurisdictions, prosecuting offices around the country to have people be aware and pay attention,” Irons explained.
“If you don’t pay attention, things can get out of hand and become harmful to our country. Another thing that we are thinking about and in the process of doing is how to help other people that are less fortunate who are wrongfully convicted and don’t have the resources or the blessings that I have been blessed with.”
Irons said he is advocating for friends who have also been wrongfully convicted.
When asked if she has any plans to go back to pro-basketball, Moore said that she is still trying to be “so present in this second year away from the game.”
“I am hoping sometime in the spring to be able to have a next step moving forward. But right now, I am trying to really just breathe from this long, long battle and enjoy and rest,” she responded. “Just being in the moment, there are a lot of unknowns for a lot of us right now. So I am still in that camp.”
In the past, Moore, who grew up in Georgia, has opened up about how her faith in Christ has been so instrumental for her as she grew up without her biological father in the home. According to ESPN, Moore and her mother attended World Changers Church International, a nondenominational ministry.
"It hit me so hard when I was in middle school that God is my father and He is my identity," Moore was quoted as saying on The Grove Podcast in 2019.
"He is my security. He is what matters most about who I am. I've become such a believer in the beauty and power and need for fathers, especially godly fathers. And whatever our culture says, I'm convinced that the best way for kids to grow up is with their mom and their dad."