Even as he has experienced unrelenting grief, anger and stress through the last year, Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has forced himself to smile and enjoy any small moments that bring him joy.
But as Towns admitted, that smile often masked the pain that he felt both emotionally and physically. After all, Towns lost his mother and six other family members to the coronavirus. Less than a month ago, Towns also tested positive for COVID-19.
“I was worried at points early on because of how serious everything got,” Towns said following the Timberwolves’ 119-112 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. “My vitals weren’t well. I had a lot of underlying conditions that didn’t play in my favor genetically as well. The amount of virus I had in my body was not healthy whatsoever.”
That is because Towns said he shared similar genes to his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, who died on April 13 less than a month after contracting the virus and receiving treatment in a medically induced coma and being connected to a ventilator. Towns’ father also tested positive for the virus, but had since recovered.
“I’m a high-risk case,” Towns said. “COVID did not treat me well whatsoever. A lot of scary nights.”
The reasons for the scary nights varied.
One time, Towns connected on FaceTime with his niece, nephew and sister, who is a single parent. Then, Towns boasted, “I’m going to fight; I’m going to beat it.” Instead of feeling inspired, Towns’ niece and nephew cried. The reason? Towns’ mother said the same thing shortly before her passing. Other times, Towns recalled his father calling him constantly in fear this would mark their last conversation. Other times, Towns experienced dark moments as he remained in solitude and in pain, with nothing but his thoughts to occupy him.
“When things get really down and get really bad, you lean on your understanding or a higher understanding. I decided to go with the latter,” Towns said. “I feel like there was an understanding that I couldn’t understand. But the Lord above does. So I just leaned on my faith and leaned on Him. Faith ain’t tested when things are going good. But when it’s bad, I leaned on Him with my mom when things went the other way. I still stayed true to my faith.”
Towns also leaned on his girlfriend, Jordyn Woods. Not only did Woods help Towns with his recovery from COVID-19. Woods also healed Towns with his offseason rehab after a drunk driver hit him on his way to one of her modeling shoots in Los Angeles.
“I just have been through so much that it numbs you a lot to stuff,” Towns said. “I just have seen tragedy in my life all the time.”
And yet there was Towns playing against the Clippers despite missing the previous 13 games, not completing any contact drills and initially struggling with rehabbing in brightly lit facilities on the Timberwolves’ recent five-game trip.
“It’s a humbling experience,” said Towns, who had 18 points in 31 minutes. “I’m not ready for the retired life yet. I’m glad to be back.”
Yet, there was Towns speaking after the game on a videoconference call so openly. Not only did Towns share in extensive detail about recovering from COVID-19. He also talked honestly about other topics.
After donating $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic to support with coronavirus testing efforts, Towns expressed gratitude to the frontline workers. Yet, Towns also shared survivors’ remorse.
“I felt very guilty about the treatment I got,” Towns said. “I feel it should be more widely available to Americans and anyone in the world.”
After feeling pain of losing family members to the virus and from the virus itself, Towns sounded increasingly annoyed with the general public that does not take the pandemic seriously.
“People complain about wearing a mask and wearing one of these. But these frontline workers are in there with people who are possibly dying,” Towns said. “And you can’t wear one? Just one?! Stop it. Don’t be lazy. Think of others before yourself. Wear the mask. Do your part. If you really hate this disease and this virus, then help us end it. Help us stop the spread of it. Wear one of these. Go about your day. Be smart. Be intelligent and be responsible. It’s as simple as it gets.”
Towns questioned why the NBA plans to host an All-Star Game next month in Atlanta with the pandemic still persisting.
“I personally don’t believe there should be an All-Star Game. But what the hell do I know?” Towns said sarcastically. “Obviously I haven’t dealt with COVID. I’m probably not the guy to ask for insight. What do I know about COVID, right?”
Still, Towns supported the NBA’s plans to resume the regular season in arenas with either none or limited fans.
“This game brings the ability to have more normalcy,” Towns said. “As everyone adheres to protocols and rules, I’m okay with coming back on this court.”
And yet, Towns wondered many times if he would ever return to the court. Even before he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I didn’t expect basketball to start this early,” Towns said. “I wasn’t mentally prepared to play when I came into training camp. I wasn’t mentally prepared for tonight. But what pushed me to play was these guys – these guys in the locker room.”
Therefore, the Timberwolves did not just marvel at Towns’ contributions after only playing four games this season, also because of an injured wrist. On and off the court, the Timberwolves have admired Towns for two qualities.
They have respected Towns’ resiliency.
“He’s been through a lot this whole summer and last year. It’s to his credibility to continue to stay sharp and continue to play with us and continue to fight through everything he’s gone through on and off the court,” Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley said. “I’m very thankful to have a teammate like that who is strong minded to get through a lot of things.”
They have also appreciated Towns’ openness.
“That takes a lot of courage in so many different ways,” Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “Many people have experienced grief and loss. You hear it, but until you live it, you don’t understand it’s not linear. Everybody goes through ups and downs. Karl’s done such an unbelievable job, I feel, in managing any type of low moments that he may have so he can be a light to other people. That’s something that should be talked about more.
“We wish we could’ve had him for more games this year. But it just wasn’t in the cards. But at the end of the day, I think the impact that he’s had on people and how he’s being outspoken with what he’s dealt with will have more of an impact than anything he can do on the court.”
Towns spent 22 minutes after the game doing just that. When he finished, Towns stood up and offered a message directed to the general public, his family and himself.
Said Towns: “Be safe.”