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Four-time WNBA champion and six-time All-Star Maya Moore put basketball on hold at the height of her career to fight for the freedom of a man she believes was wrongfully convicted.
At 16 years old, Jonathan Irons was accused of burglarizing a home in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, and assaulting the homeowner with a gun.
In March, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green overturned Irons' conviction citing exculpatory evidence that he said was withheld during Irons' initial trial.
On Wednesday, Irons became a free man for the first time in 23 years.
Moore and Irons reunited outside the prison in an emotional video that went viral on social media.
At the height of her career, WNBA superstar Maya Moore stepped off the hardwood and missed the 2019 and 2020 seasons to fight for what she believes in.
She walked away with her biggest victory yet.
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After years of working to obtain freedom for Jonathan Irons — a man accused of burglarizing a home in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, and assaulting the homeowner with a gun when he was just 16 years old — Moore was on hand when Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green overturned Irons' conviction back in March. Green cited exculpatory evidence that he said was withheld during Irons' initial trial, which is consistent with Irons' insistence that he has long been misidentified as the culprit in question.
Though the state of Missouri pursued appeals on Irons' case, Green's decision ultimately stood. And on Wednesday, Moore was on-site to watch the now-40-year-old walk free for the first time in 23 years.
Moore posted an emotional video of the moment to her Instagram. The four-time WNBA champion and six-time league All-Star fell to her knees as she watched Irons walk through the prison doors. She subsequently joined a group hug with Irons and his loved ones.
The video went viral on social media, with many across the world of sports and beyond applauding Moore for her efforts in the pursuit of justice and the sacrifices she's made in order to help free Irons.
Moore and Irons appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday to discuss the feat with ABC's Robin Roberts. Irons said he is "absolutely elated and thankful to be here in this moment right now."
"I want to rest and get my legs up under me and be able to stand," he added. "There's a lot to adjust to out here and I'm going to take it slow. I'm surrounded by people I know who love me and have my best interest in mind so I'm going to listen to them and study and learn all I can."
Moore sacrificed a lot to help give Irons the opportunity to do so. She advocated for Irons' appeal by helping to pay for his defense team and regularly showing up at court to show her support. As a result, Moore not only missed two WNBA seasons during the prime of her career but also committed to missing out on the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.
"When I stepped away two springs ago, I just really wanted to shift my priorities to be able to be more available and present to show up for things that were mattering more than being a professional athlete," Moore said. "This is obviously one of the biggest and most direct results of that."
Moore isn't sure if or when she'll rejoin her Minnesota Lynx on the basketball court, but said she's feeling ready to rest for the first time since she devoted her life to securing Irons' freedom.
"We've been standing for so long and it just, it was an unplanned moment where I just felt relief. It was kind of a worshipful moment, just dropping to my knees, and just being so thankful that we made it," Moore said of the moment when Irons was released. "Honestly, my rest is going to start now. I haven't really been able to have the fullness of the rest that I wanted, and I'm like, 'Okay, guys, now it's time to take a break.'"
As for Irons, he hopes to follow in Moore's footsteps and devote his life to helping those who find themselves in the situation he did.
"When I get the time and the opportunity and the resources and the provision, I want to be able to reach back and help other people," Irons said. "I want to advocate for people who are less fortunate. I want to help people with their cases. I want to speak to positive change and be a part of the rebuilding process from where we are right now because there's so much greater coming on the horizon and I see it."
Check out the full interview below:
—Good Morning America (@GMA) July 2, 2020
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