Maya Moore and how we talk about winners


Maya Moore has been a winner at every level. We say that so often about the best athletes: She or he “is just a winner.” Speaking so generally about an athlete’s ability to come out on top repeatedly at the peak of their profession is an ultimate sign of respect. But is it enough? Should it be enough?

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Now with a fourth WNBA championship, Moore belongs in any conversation imaginable about winning or greatness. Her first season in Minnesota in 2011 as a rookie brought about the first Lynx championship. She has multiple prime years left in all likelihood. Aside from the many individual records she’ll probably shatter, one of her own current teammates may be the only one she’s going to be chasing moving forward — Rebekkah Brunson now has five rings, having earned one prior to her Lynx tenure in 2005 with the Sacramento Monarchs.

The WNBA wants to grow its game. This season was a great follow up to the 20th anniversary 2016 season. New initiatives brought the game to new viewers in different ways. A Finals rematch between the Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks drew more than 550,000 viewers per game across ESPN’s networks and streaming services.

Many in and around the league still want more — more coverage, more games on television, more conversations about the games. Moore wrote about the very idea for The Players Tribune in 2015. Moore and the Lynx are champions once again. Where can fans go from here?

WNBA players have already dispersed. Many will be playing overseas into April and May. Some will take the time off, but many of those players sticking around have business ventures, jobs, and families. Knowing the 2017 Finals brought great basketball to the eyes of thousands, how can they take ownership in those efforts to bring more fans to the league?

For many, Moore would be a popular starting point. So often, any era in basketball history has been dominated by transcendent wings. She fits that description in a league bursting at the seams with exciting young talent. Maya Moore is a winner. One of the best we’ll ever see. But don’t let the conversation end there.

Speak on the individual moments that make you jump out of a chair. Relive those moments that you wish you could talk about with your coworkers for the next two weeks. Talk about the high level of play we just witnessed between two special teams for two straight Finals.

Trolls are not new to the WNBA, especially now as we talk and write and build connections through social media more than ever. Don’t let those few nasty voices intimidate or silence you; don’t allow them to think that their contingent is larger than company than they actually keep.  Dealing with hate can’t always be black and white. Sometimes a measured, thoughtful response will open some eyes. At times, it also is best to ignore. Either way, don’t give those voices power that they do not deserve.

Why say all this now, and what does it have to do with Maya Moore?

Moore just gave us one of those moments. The Sparks cut a twelve point deficit down to three. It was Moore who threw a bucket of water on the defending champs with a runner from the left elbow with 17 seconds on the shot clock and 28 on the game clock.

How many players in the world take that shot, let alone knock it down in a winner-take-all Game 5?

Not many people out there would object to Sylvia Fowles being named Finals MVP. Those looking elsewhere for that awards seemed to lean toward Rebekkah Brunson. That doesn’t diminish what Moore did for her team in that series.

Moore kept moving away from the ball, making it more difficult for Alana Beard limit her scoring. A late regular season game in Los Angeles between the two teams proved to include the signature performance for Beard’s Defensive Player of the Year case. Moore looked flustered with the ball and struggled with Beard’s ball denials out on the wing.

Moore clearly learned from that experience. She remained poised, smooth and confident in working to get the ball and get to her spots.

Moore scored a hair under 18 points per game in the Finals, got to the free throw line five times per game and shot 54%.

The 2017 All-Defense selection proved her worth on that end throughout the series as well. Primarily guarding Beard, she effectively provided help around the basket without surrendering a steady stream of wide open jumpers to Beard.

“I never quit. I never think that I’m out of it,” Moore said after Game 5. “I’m always trying to find the next way I can help my team, whether that’s setting a screen or cutting hard and just always believing the next opportunity is one to take.”

Those words from Moore fit well with these next two clips. First, as she backpedaled and Candace Parker brought the ball up the floor, she decided to jump right into the body of Parker to force a turnover.

Then there was her basket cut on a baseline out of bounds play, which drew praise from Cheryl Reeve in the press room following the locker room celebration.

“Seimone [Augustus] had a really, really nice jumper late off a base out-of-bounds play that Maya created,” Reeve said. “Maya created that with her basket cut.”

Finally, there was the shot at the end, which Moore also created. She ran to the ball, ensuring that she’d have a say in how that possession played out after the Sparks had put together a big run.

Why put together a pull-up jumper off the glass, a block, a steal in the open court, a basket cut, and a shot you’ve already seen more than once? Those are the moments to continue to talk about. (With Moore and other stars, pick a random game and there will always be more than five special moments worth talking about.)

Every viewer will see a basketball game differently. Fans continuing to talk about their favorite moments, players and ideas will continue to help grow the game. This is a busy time of year. The WNBA schedule is already crunched into a short window of time each year as is, don’t let the final horn of Game 5 bring WNBA conversations to a halt.

If the explosion in basketball coverage has taught us anything, we know this: There will always be room for more of everything.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 5: Sylvia Fowles /

Maya Moore is one of the best basketball players breathing. She’s also quickly becoming one of the most accomplished. She’s a winner, but don’t let the conversation end there. Take time to appreciate and enjoy the moments.

Take time to appreciate and share the little moments. Because for all you know, the next conversation you have could spark the interest of a basketball fan, who in turn will do their own work to bring more viewers to the WNBA.

Game 5 and another WNBA Finals are in the books. Don’t take your WNBA thoughts and store them away for the winter. Don’t wait for those conversations to pick back up in May. There is room for it now, and there are plenty of open-minded basketball fans to reach.

Fans of the league know how fortunate we are to watch Maya Moore play basketball. Smart basketball fans appreciate great players. Moore and many of her peers are perfect ambassadors for a league that consistently puts a quality product out on the floor.

Let’s continue to share those moments with others. Let’s grow the game.