Strong. Vulnerable. Courageous. Loving. Poignant. Impactful. Awe-inspiring. There aren’t enough positive words that I can use to describe the man Karl-Anthony Towns is.
Back in March, Towns announced on Twitter that his mother was battling the Coronavirus in an emotional video.
Jacqueline Cruz-Towns passed away due to complications of COVID-19 on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020. In the wake of her passing, he posted a touching tribute video set to “A Song For Mama” by Boyz II Men on Mother’s Day.
Less than a month later, Towns put his strength on full display, and attended a Black Lives Matter press conference in downtown Minneapolis on May 29, in the wake of the George Floyd murder. Despite carrying a world of grief with him, he flew back to Minneapolis and stood in solidarity with his teammate Josh Okogie, and long-time NBA player Stephen Jackson.
Last night, Towns released a video walking through the days leading up to and following the loss of his mother, whom he has described as “everything to all of us.”
"I could never replace her. She was everything to all of us. But the least thing I could do is pick up some of her pieces, try to rebuild the puzzle."— ESPN (@espn) November 3, 2020
—KAT reflects on the passing of his mother and the road forward (via @KarlTowns) pic.twitter.com/v1yoO6lCEv
In the video, Towns opened up about how tough it was to support his family throughout his mother’s battle and about the interactions he had with her during her fight. “I said just trust me mom, I gotchu, you know I would do anything for you,” Towns, a proud “Mama’s Boy” recalled.
Towns described notifying members of his family after his mother had passed, most specifically with his grandmother. “The worst call, the most difficult one, was calling her mom. Was calling my grandmother. Was telling her mostly you lost your daughter. I had done everything as a grandson I could do to protect her. I gotta let her go. It was difficult,” a tearful Towns said in the video. “There’s no pain that measures up to losing your mom, but if I lost my kid, I would be devastated.”
The perspective that he displays throughout the video was very eye-opening to me, and is a signal of the immense strength, love, and compassion he has at just 24 years old. He also infused the conversation with tidbits about his mother and her larger-than-life personality, which shined through as bright as can be at Target Center and in videos Towns has released on social media in the past.
“She had took her last breath, with laughter. There was no other way Jackie would’ve wanted it. She wouldn’t want people to cry for her, she would’ve wanted people to laugh. So she was sent off with laughter.”
Every time I saw Jackie on Timberwolves broadcasts or social media posts, she always wore a huge smile on her face and made sure everyone knew how proud she was of her baby boy.
When speaking about his mother and what she meant to others, Towns said she will live on through him. “My kids will get to meet her through me, because I’m the most like her of anyone.” He takes pride in following in his mother’s footsteps as a pillar of the Towns family, which he puts on full display in the video with his vulnerability and openness about the role he played throughout the grieving process with his family.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway is the importance of openness, vulnerability, and mental health Towns stresses throughout the 20-minute video. Too often celebrities, and especially male athletes, are expected to be “manly” and never show emotion through difficult times, which unfortunately is perceived as a weakness by far too many people across the country. Towns was unafraid to share his struggles with the world in hopes of it being a therapeutic process for himself and to help anyone out there who may be enduring a similar struggle.
The poignance and maturity he showed when talking about the importance of mental health is incredible. I can’t stress how important it is for everyone to hear, especially from an NBA superstar, that it is perfectly okay to express that you are in a tough spot mentally, spiritually, or physically, and ask for help or admit that you may not be okay for a long time. As someone who often fights my own mental health battles, it meant a lot to hear KAT so confidently express that.
Towns was asked about how he is dealing with everything on a day-to-day basis. “There’s a lot of adjectives you could use for emotions but for me, I just, when people ask me, ‘how are you doing?’, I always it’s a day-by-day thing. You know, I just don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what the next day holds for me, I just know that right now, I gotta keep it together and try to find the smile and fun in life,” he said.
Natalie Manuel Lee, a rising media star who has worked in the past with Jordyn Woods, Towns’ girlfriend, very tactfully conducted the interview with him. She replied, “But do you have to keep it together? Do you have to find the smile?”
Towns immediately jumped in: “No, I don’t, but when you deal with kids and two people who understand the pain you’re going through, you want to be the one that brightens the room, just like her.”
If this battle and grieving process has shown us anything about Karl-Anthony Towns, there is one thing that is abundantly clear: he is an incredibly strong, mentally tough, loving, and compassionate young man who will continue to do amazing things in life that are so much bigger than basketball. And he will always do them brightening every room he walks in, just like his mother.