'30 for 30 | Breakaway': Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons' love story leaves America awestruck

Maya Moore decided to take a sabbatical from basketball at the peak of her career to free Jonathan Irons


                            '30 for 30 | Breakaway': Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons' love story leaves America awestruck
Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons at an event in New York City (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Basketball icon Maya Moore, who has been a WNBA champion a record four times, has left people across the country in tears and awe with the release of the new documentary 'Breakaway'. The latest installment on ESPN's '30 for 30', features Moore in a never-seen-before avatar —showing the journey of her life as she decided to take a year-long sabbatical from her professional career. The audience was particularly moved by the powerful love story of Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons — the innocent man she helped free from prison.

Viewers across America were surprised beyond belief to find their favorite athlete etch a brilliant victory in the game of life. "Maya Moore Irons so much courage to put your career on hold! Simply phenomenal and so selfless!" hailed a Twitter user. The WNBA champion's musical prowess was also revealed in the documentary which caught most of her fans off-guard.

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Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons' love story

Jonathan Irons was imprisoned in 1998 when he was merely a boy of 16 years. He was accused of being involved in a burglary and the shooting of Stanley Stotler. 

Stotler, who hailed from the suburbs of St Louis, returned one day to find his door ajar with someone inside. He later identified the teenager Jonathan Irons as the person inside his home. Despite Irons repeatedly insisting that he was not present at the scene, he was arrested as the police overlooked multiple contradicting issues in the identification.

There was no credible forensic evidence or witnesses to confirm Irons as the key suspect. Aside from Stotler's own testimony, there was only one other police officer claiming Irons had confessed. However, there was no recording of the confession or testimony by any other officer. Irons himself always insisted that the confession never occurred. Moreover, it was later found that a key fingerprint report, which eliminated Irons as the suspect, was not submitted during the trial. Irons ended up being prosecuted and convicted as an adult, sentenced to 50 years in prison. 

His emancipation came in the form of Maya Moore, only after serving 23 grueling years of his wrongful prison sentence. Moore had been involved in Irons' case from a young age of 18 years when she first heard about the same through her extended family in Missouri. As a young, firebrand woman, Moore reached out to Irons and soon developed a close friendship with him that lasted over decades. 

Meanwhile, in the domain of basketball, Maya Moore was effortlessly scaling the pillars of success, being hailed as an icon across America. At the peak of her success in 2019, she announced her shocking decision to take a sabbatical from the court. Her decision to skip the WNBA season left millions shocked and heartbroken at the time. However, for Moore, it was another game of life where she had resolved to win. 

Moore dedicated her entire time to advocate for criminal justice reforms while striving to bring justice for Jonathan Irons. She actively used her network to raise awareness about Irons' plight. She also worked relentlessly in the public forum and the court system to reopen Irons' case for re-examination. 

On July 2, 2020, her untiring efforts finally bore fruit, as judge Daniel Green vacated Irons' conviction. He ruled that the case against Irons was "very weak and circumstantial at best" and that there were numerous loopholes in the same. As Irons walked free from prison, he expressed, "I feel like I can live life now. I’m free, I’m blessed, I just want to live my life worthy of God’s help and influence. I thank everybody who supported me — Maya and her family.”

In the meantime, away from all the advocacy and limelight, Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons fell in love. They overcame the endless hurdles in their way to eventually get married in secret. In September 2020, Moore announced the news of her marriage on Good Morning America. 

"I wanted to marry her but at the same time protect her because being in a relationship with a man in prison, it’s extremely difficult and painful. And I didn’t want her to feel trapped and I wanted her to feel open and have the ability any time if this is too much for you, go and find somebody. Live your life. Because this is hard," Irons recalled at the time. 

With the release of the new documentary, Moore's fans got a new insight into the life of their favorite star, who is currently working with her husband for the cause of criminal justice reforms. 

"Pretty speechless after watching Breakaway. There’s just nobody like Maya Moore. Words aren’t enough to describe her," podcaster Daniel Connolly tweeted. 

Rebeca Landa from ESPN shared a powerful quote by Maya Moore, tweeting, ""Power is not meant to be gripped with a clenched fist or to be hoarded. Power is meant to be handled generously so we can thoughtfully empower one another to thrive in our communities for love's sake" - Maya Moore."