Phenomenally successful WNBA basketball player Maya Moore, named Sports Illustrated’s 2017 Performer of the Year, wants to be remembered for more than just shooting hoops.
Maya, drafted number one by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2011 Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), has continued to excel, both with the Lynx and with overseas teams in Spain and China. Sports Illustrated called her the greatest winner in the history of women's basketball, and with two collegiate titles, four WNBA championships, four Most Valuable Player awards, two World Championship gold medals and two Olympic gold medals to her name, among many other awards, it is not hard to see why.
Maya has been praised not only for her playing but for the fire, polish, humility, integrity and friendliness she displays on court.
However, her growing-up years were challenging.
"I grew up in a single-parent home in Jefferson City, Missouri," Maya shares. "To keep me busy while she cooked dinner, my Mom put up a toy basketball hoop in the living room. By the age of eight, I realised I loved basketball more than any other sports and that was the beginning of a nine-year journey of competitive amateur ball."
Maya says that she went to church while growing up, but "I still had my struggles as usual. I knew about God but didn't necessarily know Him intimately. I knew more about what was right and wrong."
Seeking greater job opportunities, Maya's mother moved the family to Atlanta when Maya was 12.
"It was a hard, lonely time," Maya tells Christianity Today, remembering how the middle-school kids mocked her 6-foot height and her size 13 shoes. "It was really tough. My mom and I were on our own together and we had to figure out how to do things on our own.
"We ended up using this time to seek God, find a church and decide that God was important to us. We started to really seek the Lord in a deeper way. When my mom got laid off from the job for which we had moved, she had to work nights for a while, and that produced the perfect storm for us to have to depend on the guidance and stability that God provided. It was in those years that I started to trust the Lord and experience a relationship with Him as my Heavenly Father."
Her mom's career eventually sent them to North Carolina, then to Georgia. By the eighth grade, Maya had attended four different middle schools. It was a life-altering time in their lives, but for Maya and her mother, the consistency and peace provided by their commitment to Christ helped sustain them through the changes.
"I worked, played and trained every summer and school year and ended up having a very successful high school career._I played my college basketball all the way in Connecticut where the Lord blessed me with some amazing coaches, teammates, friends and mentors through a Christian sports ministry called Athletes in Action," Maya recalls._"Through this support system I developed greatly as a leader, person and disciple of Christ. It has been a challenging, exciting, and prayerful process as I navigate the waters of early adulthood. It's been amazing to see what the Lord has done already, and I know He still has greater things for the future."
"Even though I've got a lot of awards and honours, it is nothing compared to what the Lord has done in my life and what He's done for the world," the 28-year-old declares. "I'm grateful to have the platform of an elite professional basketball player, and I want to do His will with my life."
Maya's mission is to use her fame to help others by advocating for prosecutorial reform in the American justice system and support for the less fortunate through Unicef Kids Power.
"We are to be Christ's hands and feet," she says. "We're called to be loving neighbours. It might not be as popular, but we have to give a voice to the voiceless.
"It's been a great journey living and seeing the Lord's perfect timing unfold, and I'm still growing. In the big picture, God is going to do what He wants to in my life, and He's lined my course and given me so many ridiculous opportunities. Looking back over the last 10 years, we couldn't have timed it better than He did."
A part of Scripture that Maya has incorporated into her life is Colossians 3:23-24, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
"Because I am a public figure, *I depend daily on God to fill me with humility," Maya admits. *"I believe the best way I can be a *role model is by living an authentic, God-dependent lifestyle. Acknowledging God and His character is a priority and privilege each day He gives me.
"I want to be aware of how I treat others, not thinking too highly of myself. To be a servant in a culture that tries to place me on a throne that only God should sit on.
"Through frequent prayer, diligent Bible study, and regularly engaging with other Christ-followers, my mind and heart remain convinced of His truth in a world that screams otherwise."•