Sports in Atlanta is more shut down now than Yellowstone Park.
October has offered such vivid reminders of the price one pays for living and rooting here: Braves eliminated; Falcons beaten while their roster was thinned; Georgia Tech mauled in Miami. Even Georgia’s victory at Tennessee was a Pyrrhic one, knees popping like champagne corks on New Year’s Eve. Missouri showed the Bulldogs no compassion whatsoever.
Wonder what it is like to live in a world where the concept of losing is as difficult to grasp as string theory?
Where winning is not the pleasant surprise, but the expected outcome. Sunrise, sunset, apartment fires on the 6 o’clock news and winning — ho-hum, all part of the every-day routine.
Spend a few moments in Maya Moore’s World:
Two WNBA titles in three years, the second secured Thursday night at Gwinnett Arena, 15 minutes from her old high school. And for giggles, she was the Finals MVP.
Three straight state championships while at Collins Hill.
An Olympic Gold medal.
Three national titles with UConn.
Winner of the Shoe Wars, as the first woman to sign a deal with Michael Jordan’s Nike brand.
Once lit up the President during a little shoot-around at the White House. “She lit everybody up,” Barack Obama declared at the time.
That world is such a better place than the one we just left last week.
Moore is but 24, and lest you think that so much success at such a tender age has left her jaded, her mother will set you straight.
“It never gets old,” Kathryn Moore said.
“I love all my championships. You can’t make me choose (a favorite),” her daughter said.
Naturally her latest one was done at the expense of an Atlanta team, her Minnesota Lynx sweeping the Dream in three games, by an average of more than 19 points per. The Lynx plundered this postseason, going 7-0.
But being that Moore is the most accomplished woman’s player from Georgia since Teresa Edwards and that she still has a place in Smyrna for those rare days she is not off playing somewhere, her victories still count as at least partially local. It’s not like we can afford to be sticklers. There certainly were plenty of her supporters at Gwinnett Arena.
Even the long-time security guy who manned the door in front of the Lynx locker room warmly greeted Moore when she arrived for the Thursday morning shoot-around. Then he handed her a copy of a county newspaper whose headline labeled the arena, “Maya’s Place.”
It was as if the entire production of the Finals was arranged solely to emphasize Moore’s almost unnatural relationship with victory. Beyond just coming home again, she was, by the quirkiest twist, coming back to the exact building where her habit of winning was conceived.
The Dream’s usual Philips Arena home was booked — Disney on Ice trumps all — forcing the team to move its Finals home game to Gwinnett. To a building informally known in high school circles as the Maya Temple, where Moore won three Georgia high school state championship games from 2005-07.
“When I found out the game was going to be moved here,” Kathryn Moore said, “I thought that was a great sign.”
For the record, Moore had lost once in the building, as a freshman in the 2004 state championship. Such a fate must befall everyone at some point. The trick is to not make it a habit.
“It was a super game, we were playing a very good Stephenson team that had a couple D-1 players and Maya was just a ninth grader,” said Angie Hembree, Moore’s coach for two years at Collins Hill, now at Norcross.
“At the end of that game everybody was upset. She had tears in her eyes she said, ‘This will never happen again.’ And it never did.”
The only game Moore lost during her final two years at Collins Hill came in a preseason tournament game in Arizona her junior year. She probably wouldn’t have lost that one, said her coach at the time, if she hadn’t fouled out in overtime. The official later admitted that it was a blown call, said Tracey Tipton (now an assistant at Central Gwinnett).
“If I had a chess team Maya would be my first pick to be on it. She may not even know anything about chess at the time, but she would eventually. She’d find a way to win,” Tipton said.
There is at work an uncompromising attitude that carried over off the court, Tipton noticed. For instance, there was the time Moore missed just a couple answers on a history test but couldn’t accept it. By the end of the day, she was back in the teacher’s classroom, pointing out rightfully where he had made some errors in grading.
Looking over the expanse of Moore’s competitive success — did we mention that her UConn team once won 90 consecutive — it is all a little overwhelming. Especially for those from her hometown who have known so much of winning’s antonym.
Moore has all the individual awards a player could want. Yet her career is being so much defined by a shared success.
Among her first words after claiming a second WNBA title: “When you think of all the things you want your team to be, this team has it. I mean, look at how we played today, just how we shared the ball. We had five, almost six people in double figures.”
Tell us, please, the secret of how do you do it? What is the magic blend of talent that takes a team to the brink and the will that gets it the rest of the way? We must know.
Moore offered no ready answer: “Depends on the level you are at. Sometimes when you are younger you can out-talent people. But by the time you’re in college and you’re a pro there’s going to be a lot of talent and it’s going to come down to your work ethic, your preparation, your chemistry, your attitude as a team. At this level, there are so many details that have to come together.”
Sounds like this winning thing may be hard to do.
The Maya Empire has stretched across oceans. Last season — and she is signed to return this winter — Moore debuted with the fightin’ Shanxi Flame in the Chinese league. She averaged 38.7 a game, went for 60 one night, and, of course, won a championship with the team. If China starts producing an abundance of women’s basketball players, we’ll know who to credit/blame.
“Everywhere she goes, a championship seems to follow. She has a magical effect, the way she carries herself, the work ethic she applies every single day,” said her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
Before Thursday’s conclusion of the WNBA Finals, there seemed to be some debate as to ownership of the Gwinnett Arena.
“This is the Atlanta Dream’s house, no matter what,” the Dream’s Angel McCoughtry said.
“At the end of the night that will be determined. Both teams are fighting to see who’s going to take the house tonight,” Moore said.
In most such debates, Moore prevails. There she stood Thursday night, drenched in victory. As a high school kid, she might have sprayed a little Gatorade around a Gwinnett Arena locker room in celebration. She has moved on to champagne.
Noticeably, Moore was not consuming any of the spirits as they showered down upon the winners late that night. She said she wanted to keep her head clear head for the moment.
“What, are you the designated driver?” someone quipped.
“No,” she grinned. “I guess I’m the designated champion.”