Sometimes emotions can hide in a Zoom box, but in the face and voice of Karl-Anthony Towns on Friday, the sadness, frustration and helplessness of a man who has dealt with tragedy after tragedy was painfully evident.
In his first news conference with reporters and only his second public comments since the death of his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, from COVID-19, Towns revealed he lost six other family members to COVID, including an uncle who he said died Thursday.
“I’m just trying to … keep my family out of harm’s way,” Towns said. “I’ve seen a lot of coffins in the last seven, eight months. But I have a lot of people who are in my family, who have gotten COVID and I’m the one looking for answers still. Trying to find how to keep them healthy.
“It’s just a lot of responsibility. A lot of responsibility on me to keep my family well-informed and make all the moves necessary to keep them alive.”
At times Friday, Towns sounded beaten down, weary of the battles his family has waged since March.
He previously spoke of his mom’s battle with COVID and her final moments in painstaking detail in a YouTube interview with Natalie Manuel Lee in November. Even though the audio quality of Friday’s call was inconsistent, the emotions on his face and in his muted tones were clear.
“I never been mentally in a good place since that woman went in the hospital,” Towns said. “It’s just getting harder and harder every day as I keep losing people.”
Now, he has to contemplate playing basketball again as the NBA season tips off for the Wolves on Dec. 23 at home against Detroit. Last season, when Towns returned from a knee injury and illness that kept him sidelined for 15 games, he spoke in January of basketball being good “therapy” for him in his first game back. Towns said playing again wouldn’t act as therapy for him this time around, and that playing again was going to be difficult without his mom watching him.
“It always brought a smile to my mom and it always brought a smile for me when I saw my mom at the baseline and in the stands watching me play,” Towns said. “It’s going to be hard to play. It’s going to be difficult to say that this is therapy. I don’t think this will ever be therapy again for me.”
Throughout this process, Towns hasn’t completely closed himself off.
He participated in a rally in downtown Minneapolis after the killing of George Floyd and wanted to lend his voice to those who are fighting to combat police brutality and systemic racism.
“It’s always easy to do the right thing when it’s convenient for you, but it’s hard to do the right thing when it’s inconvenient for you,” Towns said. “That’s why I went. I knew it was the right thing to stand up for racial injustice and to help the youth and spread the message that this police brutality and racial injustice has to stop, especially in a community that’s given me the opportunity to live the life I live.”
He has also shared details of his family’s struggle from the moment his mom was diagnosed with the virus in March, even if it was hard to speak those words. He has done so in order to help raise awareness for just how deadly the virus is and how it can impact entire families.
“I just wanted to help people,” Towns said. “I’ve always been a person since I was young, I just never wanted people to feel that pain I felt, and that was one of those moments where I leaned back on myself. I didn’t want people to feel the way I felt and I wanted to try and keep them from having the ordeal and situation I was going through.”
Unfortunately, the virus hasn’t ceded in Towns’ inner circle throughout these months, and now work comes calling. He said being around teammates has brought him some welcome distractions. He is happy to have point guard Ricky Rubio back on the team, and Rubio can relate to what Towns’ is going through after he lost his mother to lung cancer in 2016.
“Everybody goes through grief in different ways,” Rubio said. “I offer him that he can talk to me whenever he’s ready and whenever he wants. We’ll be on the road, we can have a glass of wine. Whatever he wants to talk over, I will be there.”
Even in the smaller moments, teammates have been a help to Towns, who has been through many dark hours with few moments of respite.
“I feel like I’ve been hardened a little bit by life and humbled,” Towns said.