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2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
Karl-Anthony Towns Jr., 2015
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

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An Open Letter to Karl-Anthony Towns

I just want to share a few things with you.

Dear Karl,

I’m writing to you today not as a media member. Not as a critic. I’m writing to you today just as a fan. A fan who has religiously watched Minnesota Timberwolves games since I was a teenager. Someone who has watched you play basketball since you were a teenager. I’ve also seen you overcome obstacle after obstacle in your young life, watching you evolve as a man. Please bear with me for a few minutes today as I open up my heart and soul to you.

I’ve been a Wolves fan since before you were even in preschool. As someone who had never stepped foot in Minnesota (yet) or knew a single soul in that state, I took my teenage hipster fandom very seriously. So seriously that my family frustratingly side-eyed me as I routinely hogged our landline, just so I can watch live play-by-play of Wolves games on 56K dial-up internet. As a scrawny little Asian kid in a predominantly white high school, I was willing to endure extra ridicule from friends and classmates for repping a team that wasn’t as local, or successful, as theirs (Kings/Lakers).

My irrational belief in the Timberwolves no doubt made life more difficult for me.

Needless to say, things were only going to get harder after the most successful Wolves season of 2003-2004. I cried as I watched my childhood hero, Kevin Garnett, shed tears of pain (and pride) in 2005 as Minnesota tumbled backwards towards irrelevancy. That was only the beginning.

It felt as though the youthful energy and passion that KG had played with had been sapped from him.

Garnett rests on bench
Kevin Garnett, 2003
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Just months later, I unexpectedly and suddenly lost my father.

I was lost. I disconnected from everything. Sports. School. Friends. Family. I even wanted to disconnect from life. But I pushed forward. It took years before I was able to begin processing it. Even nearly 20 years later, I’m still learning how to live with this reality. I was able to slowly find myself, regain my footing, and discover ways to heal. By the time I felt mentally ready to rejoin society, things had changed. My idol, KG, had been failed by his organization to build a contending team, and he was reluctantly traded to another team. Meanwhile, the Wolves appeared glued to a cycle of dysfunction in the mid to late 2000s.

That was until the day they drafted Ricky Rubio in 2009.

Not only was both his on and off the court persona a breath of fresh air, but he paired perfectly with budding superstar Kevin Love. As the franchise started to turn things around, it felt as though my life serendipitously did as well. Just as quickly as I found myself graduating with a bachelor’s degree as a first-generation college student, Minnesota was one of the exciting young up-and-coming teams in the league.

But apparently, not all good things were meant to last for the Timberwolves.

The front office once again failed their All-NBA Star. Love was illogically low-balled into a less than desired contract extension and after years and years of trade rumors, Minnesota gave up on Love in 2014. Not long thereafter, my other hero, Ricky, also went through a similar process. He too had to deal with hearing his name constantly pop up in yearly trade rumors despite the hurt and pain he was personally suffering off the court as his mother fought against lung cancer.

It felt as though the youthful energy and passion that Ricky had played with had been sapped from him.

Ricard Rubio Vives, 2015
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

During this time in 2015, I went through personal heartache of my own after a difficult breakup with my then longtime partner. It was an important turning of a page, leading to the next chapter of my young adult life. Of course, as fate would have it, you were drafted to the Timberwolves that very same summer. I was ready to begin things fresh. I was 100% bought in to this young 19-year-old center out of University of Kentucky who played with a zest for basketball that reminded me of KG and Ricky.

You know how the last eight years have gone since then.

Even as the Wolves rebranded and shook up the team in the summer 2017, I went through a similar shift in my life. I uprooted from my hometown where I spent most of my 28 years of life and relocated to Southern California. Hell, there was even a generally sore breakup within the Timberwolves shortly thereafter. You don’t need me to recap how it’s all gone since then. I’m sure every day you walk into Target Center, you’re reminded of all the proud achievements and painful losses alike. As someone who has become jaded from watching their favorite sports team routinely fail their franchise cornerstones, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about your fate.

But you instilled belief.

Year after year, you declared your loyalty to the Timberwolves. Even after the most turbulent three-year stint in almost any NBA player’s career, you continued to proclaim your faith to Minnesota. Talking heads loved nothing more than to prod and jest at you.

KAT never plays well in the playoffs.

He’s one of the most overpaid players.

KAT doesn’t play any defense.

He complains to the refs too much.

Why does KAT’s voice change so much?

Can you believe what he said on this podcast?

KAT shoots too many 3s.

KAT needs to shoot more 3s.

You never took the bait and responded with nothing but love and positivity. In an era where drama and hate generates the most clicks, you’ve continued to be a beacon of light as a positive role model who tries to spread joy to everyone around you. You’ve remained genuine to who you truly are as a person. As someone who works in diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, I can’t express to you how much I appreciate your work on social justice, championing mental health awareness, and promoting global health and safety. I’ll never forget when I had the opportunity to ask you about the March 2021 AAPI hate crimes that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia. Your response was nothing short of what I’ve come to expect from you — A response filled with love and empathy.

I watched you during media day last week. Although you may have been in great spirits and excited for the season, it felt as though something was different. Your interview responses felt more subdued than usual. The usual high energy KAT with quotable and exuberant remarks appeared absent. Maybe it was just hard to tell the energy from a stream some 2,000 miles away. But there’s always that voice in the back of Wolves fans heads.

Is he going to leave? Are the Wolves going to trade him?

Karl-Anthony Towns Jr., 2023
Minnesota Timberwolves

I’ve followed the NBA long enough now to know that it’s a business. We rarely get that fairytale ending, like KG had once hoped for. Like Ricky hoped for. Twice. We saw this offseason that even the most loyal NBA players have seemingly, “run from the grind.” Even when players are truly, fully committed to an organization, they don’t necessarily get that same reciprocation from their front offices. It’s hard to tell, from a fan’s perspective, what might happen next.

But I do know you will keep playing with that youthful energy and passion.

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

So today — Human to human — I want to say thank you. Thank you for being an outstanding player. Thank you for being an even more outstanding person. I know I’m not alone when I say that you are appreciated. Many of us have loved rooting for you and hope you remain in Minnesota until the end of your long, illustrious career.

I’ll wrap it up with this: If life has taught me anything, it’s that the state of the Wolves will somehow always be correlated to the happenings in my life. I’ve had amazing highs and crippling lows, yet I’ve made it this far contrary to my own belief, at times. Most recently, I was fortunate enough to have tied the knot with my life partner last month. I secured my ring. You’ve made it this far and as KG alluded to a few weeks ago — You may have found a partner to come together with as well.

I think the time is right for you to secure your ring now.

With love,

Leo Sun