Karl-Anthony Towns got through perhaps the final really tough moment of his 2020-21 season Sunday in Orlando — playing on Mother’s Day.
The Timberwolves center was happy to do so, to have something to take his mind off the day he would spend annually with his mother, Jackie, before she passed last spring. He also was glad to have his father, Karl Sr., by his side this weekend. They understand the lasting pain they both are going through.
That pain was evident courtside before the game, when the two shared a long, emotional embrace prior to the opening tip of Minnesota’s blowout win over the Magic. From the losses his family endured last offseason to Towns’ dislocated wrist to contracting a scary case of COVID-19 himself, this has been a long season for Towns, to say the least.
So everyone understands that, despite the progress the Timberwolves are making on the court at the end of this season, Towns is looking forward to parts of hearing that final buzzer after Sunday’s season finale at Target Center against Dallas.
“For me, personally, I’m just excited, in a selfish way, to hear the last horn go off and finally take time to really try to heal the right way,” Towns said. “I’ve put basketball front and center for my life so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the demons on the back end, but it’s going to be good to really get some help, you know?”
Physically, emotionally, all of it. Towns lost a number of family members to the COVID-19 pandemic, including an uncle who died just before the start of the season. There has been little to no time to heal. So many emotions, so little time to process them.
There were times when Towns had thoughts surrounding whether he even wanted to play basketball anymore. The sport was never meant to define him, anyway. But he continued forward. He dedicated himself to this team and its improvement, even amid the losses, even amid the injuries. That dislocated wrist still pains him to this day; it is something he hopes to correct this offseason. It never affected his play, nor his will to give the Timberwolves everything he had this season.
“There is just a strength that has been instilled in me since I was young. My mom has, in weird ways I feel, prepared me for this moment to handle more than I ever thought I possibly could,” Towns said. “I’m just taking that strength through everything I’ve been through in my life, and how many friends I’ve seen die, and how many times I’ve been in the hospital with friends or even with my mom, and this is before COVID. It’s just something that through life I’ve garnered a lot of strength through a lot of trials and tribulations, and it’s made me the man I am today.”
Towns has tried to stay true to himself through everything — even when he’s criticized, even when people clamor for something different.
Want him to get into a spat? Not going to happen. Think he should criticize teammates? No thanks. Respond to a narrative? Not likely.
“I’ve been through so much (stuff) in recent years and had my name thrown in so many things, and it’s because of my mother and the morals and values she’s taught me, especially my father, I’ve been a professional in every step of the way, even when it was really hard,” Towns said. “Even when I could’ve did the things that weak-minded individuals do, I stayed a professional. I only talk great of my teammates. I only talk amazing of the people that are involved in this organization, even when I have every opportunity to bash them and throw them to the floor, to the furnace.”
For that approach, Towns thanks his late mother, his father and his sister. They, he said, have provided him with the strength to maintain his character through everything the NBA throws his way.
“I look back at my career and I’m just glad that I’ve always been reminded to be who I am and not change who I am to please media or anybody else,” Towns said. “Do what the right thing is, even when it’s tough.”
That was Towns last offseason, as he shared an update on his mom’s status as she was in a coma, fighting for her life against the virus. It was what he did when his mother passed, and he relived the pain in a video on YouTube. It was what he did when he detailed his own struggles against the virus. He laid out his pain to benefit others, hoping to get everyone to take the necessary precautions in the world’s fight against the virus.
Towns told his teammates after the game Sunday that he appreciates them for everything. He believes they gave him “a new life” this season, when he didn’t know if such a thing would be possible. Towns is excited for this team’s future. He has witnessed the growth of his teammates — and thus, this unit — throughout this season. He is looking forward to attacking this offseason and getting his body right. Towns seems enthused by the potential prospects of the 2021-22 season.
But before any of that, he plans to take a step back after that final buzzer Sunday, and reflect.
“To truly take a step back and be proud of where I’m at,” Towns said. “I’ve came a long way in this year, so I’m just going to be taking a step back and truly taking a moment to give myself a pat on the back and be happy with how far I’ve come.”
He deserves it.