“All The Resources I Had That People Didn’t Have With COVID, And I Still Lost…” | Karl-Anthony Towns On Grieving And Finding Joy In Basketball Again

The last two years have been a nightmare for Karl-Anthony Towns. In 2020 he lost his mother, Jackie, and seven other family members to COVID-19 and had his own bout with the virus that left him hospitalized.

The Minnesota Timberwolves lost 94 games over that same time span and dealt with a scandal involving former general manager, Gersson Rosas. In 2022 Towns is having a personal and professional resurgence and the Wolves are having their best season in four years.

“My mom was the purpose of me even playing basketball,” Towns said. “So when she passed away, I had to repurpose myself. I had to find what was going to be the reason that I want to go in every day and put my body and my mind and my spirit through all this stress. Why would I do this? It took time and a lot of self-reflection.”

Losing a parent is something that never leaves you, as those who’ve lost a parent can attest. What happens over time is how you cope and process their death. How you deal with moments that you would’ve shared if they were still alive.

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On March 14 in a win over the San Antonio Spurs, Towns scored a franchise-record and career-high 60 points. In the moments following his historic night, his mother was so present in his thoughts he went to text her, forgetting she was not alive to respond.

“I was so in the moment that I pulled my mom’s number up to text her,” Towns says. Halfway through the text, he caught himself and started crying. “This was a moment for us. She would’ve loved it.”

Towns credits his girlfriend, model and actress Jordyn Woods, with helping him process Jackie’s death. Woods lost her father to pancreatic cancer in 2017, so she could empathize and sympathize with what Towns was going through. That support and understanding was key in Towns’ grieving process and Woods helped him find the joy in the game again.

“She doesn’t even really know how to play, but she comes in and tells me, ‘Hey, I saw this clip on Twitter. I think you should look at it. This man did this move,'” Towns says. “It’s crazy now how my girl loves basketball just as much as my mom did. She filled those shoes in so wonderfully and made basketball fun again.”

No matter who you are or what you do, you need to find joy in life. It’s way too hard to maneuver without it.

Now that the joy is back within his game and he has joy off the floor in his personal life, the sky’s the limit. Towns is one of the most gifted players to ever set foot in the NBA. What he can do in terms of shooting and playmaking at his size and athleticism is incredible.

He’s top 10 in EPM, estimated wins, and WS/48.

In February prior to the All-Star break Towns said he was the best shooting big man of all-time. A bold claim. But he backed it up, sort of, winning the NBA Three-Point Contest at All-Star weekend in Cleveland.

Still, despite the success on the floor and the joy that’s returned, basketball now has proper context in his life.

“I think my mom passing away was the first time I realized basketball can’t fix something,” Towns says. “Think about that. All the connections, all the people I knew, all the resources I had that people didn’t have with COVID, and I still lost. I still watched her life fade away in my hands, literally in my hands, with a hazmat suit on. I couldn’t fix it. It was the first time I realized basketball was not going to save me this time. I really had to do the work.”

What often gets missed by fans when they watch their favorite athletes is the work they’ve put in to get where they are. Yes, you need talent to become a professional athlete.

But to make it to the best league in the world requires a maniacal, single-minded obsession that we couldn’t possibly understand. To succeed in a league that only has 450 players requires that an athlete really love and enjoy the process.

For most of Towns’ life the basketball court is where everything made sense. When life and its trials and tribulations come, retreat to the comfort and familiarity of what you know.

The day after his career night on the court, he shared his feelings on Twitter.

When that place can’t provide you with what you need in the wake of tragedy, that has to be extremely difficult and unsettling. Where do you go from there?

You lean on family, friends, loved ones and in Towns’ case you share the grief and your feelings as a form of catharsis.

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