The pain remained visible both with Karl-Anthony Towns’ voice and body language.
The Minnesota Timberwolves star has spent this past year grieving the passing of his mother Jacqueline Cruz and six other family members because of complications with the coronavirus. As he spoke to reporters for the first time since their deaths in a conference call on Friday, Towns provided in-depth candor about his tragedy.
“I’ve seen a lot of coffins in the last seven months,” Towns said. “I have lot of people who I have in my family — my mom’s family — that have gotten COVID and are still looking for answers and trying to find how to keep them healthy. It’s a lot of responsibility on me to keep my family well informed and to make all the moves necessary to keep them alive.”
Jacqueline Cruz died on April 13, less than a month after Towns announced on his Instagram account that his father and mother contracted the virus. On March 25, Towns shared that his mother was in a medically-induced coma and connected to a ventilator. His father, Karl Sr., has since recovered from the virus.
“The video came from a place of, I didn’t want people to feel lonely and upset as I was,” Towns said. “I made that video to protect others and keep others well-informed, even though when I knew it would take the emotions out of me.”
Towns’ emotions spilled out again when a white police officer Derek Chauvin killed unarmed Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Towns had stayed at home both to stay safe from COVID-19 and mourn his mother’s passing.
But he soon felt compelled to leave the house and join former NBA player Stephen Jackson in Minneapolis to protest systemic racism and police brutality. Towns grew up with his mother pushing him to stand for just causes and to speak his mind without worry of any backlash. So Towns said he “knew my mom would’ve wanted me to be there; she would’ve given me the push and motivation to go.”
“It was the strength of my mother to get the strength to go out of the house after being upset,” Towns said. “The first time being outside was difficult emotionally and mentally. But I knew I had to go. I knew I had to make my voice heard at a time it wasn’t convenient. Doing the right thing is usually the hardest thing to do in the world today.”
Towns also linked with teammate and close friend D’Angelo Russell in Louisville, Kentucky, where the two protested the killing of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was shot by police officers after they broke into her apartment amid suspicion her boyfriend was connected to a money-laundering operation. Before his mother’s passing, Towns also donated $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic to help with testing patients for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves offered various support. Gersson Rosas, the team’s president of basketball operations, connected Towns’ family with various health experts. They offered public sympathy following his mother’s passing. They praised him for attending voluntary workouts. They gave him space when he stayed at home.
Towns expressed gratitude for the support, saying “it helped me get my mind off some things.” But those feelings were only temporary. With the NBA beginning group practices this week, Towns sounded skeptical about the gym becoming a safe haven. So much that Towns said, “I wouldn’t say it’s therapy for me at all.”
“I play this game more because I just love to watch my family members see me play a game that I was very successful and good at. It always brought a smile to my mom,” Towns said. “It always brought a smile for me when I saw my mom at the baseline and in the stands and stuff and having a good time watching me play. It’s going to be hard to play. It’s going to be difficult to say this is therapy. I don’t think this will ever be therapy again for me. But it gives me a chance to relive good memories. I guess that’s the only therapy I’m going to get from it. It’s not going to really help me emotionally or anything.”
Towns still pledged to become the team’s leader “on and off the court,” to help a young roster work hard and efficiently. But with the NBA about to begin a season during the pandemic, he remains consumed with following the league’s safety protocols to avoid further tragedy.
“It’s hard. I’ve lost a lot of family members and people that have raised me that have gotten it,” Towns said. “That’s where I have to look back at my life with that person and try to get through that. Just trying my best to keep my family safe just like my mom. Trying to keep my sister, the kids, my dad out of harm’s way and keep my family out of harm’s way.”