When this pandemic first crept into our everyday lives roughly one year ago, many were quick to believe the misinformation being spread about how the virus was nothing more than a really bad case of the flu. By March, the first domino fell with Rudy Gobert making fun of COVID and touching the phones of the media members laid out before him during a post-game press conference. Only days later, he tested positive. The NBA reacted by postponing all games, which then led swiftly to the season as a whole shutting down. All other sports followed suit. The Rudy Gobert incident was the turning point for our nation, sparking widespread cancelations of public activities, which eventually taught us about terms like “social distancing,” “quarantine,” and “lock-down.” In two short months, we went from a nation of ignorant bliss, to one in chaotic turmoil.
When April hit and our country — and the rest of humanity — were fully entangled with a new reality, lowlighted by surging unemployment and rising death tolls by the day, Karl-Anthony Towns and his family suffered a tragic loss. On April 13, 2020, Jacqueline Cruz, Towns’ mother, passed away after a week-long battle with COVID.
In a call with reporters in December, Towns told the media that he had lost six other family members in addition to his mother due to COVID. “Last night I got a call that I lost my uncle,” Towns said. “I feel like I’ve been hardened a little bit by life and humbled. I’ve seen a lot of coffins in the last seven months, eight months, but I have a lot of people who have — in my family and my mom’s family — who have gotten COVID. I’m the one looking for answers still, trying to find how to keep them healthy. It’s just a lot of responsibility on me to keep my family well-informed and to make all the moves necessary to keep them alive.”
On January 15, Towns took to Instagram to announce that he had tested positive for COVID. After indicating that he would immediately isolate and follow every protocol, Towns said “It breaks my heart that my family, and particularly my father and sister, continue to suffer from the anxiety that comes along with this diagnosis, as we know all too well what the end result could be.”
“To my niece and nephew, Jolani and Max, I promise you I will not end up in a box next to grandma and I will beat this,” he said.
Towns missed 13-straight games while battling and recovering from COVID, returning to action for the first time last night. While he might not feel fully up to playing speed, he still gave a very solid performance —18 points and 10 rebounds.
“I am a high-risk case,” Towns said, per ESPN. “COVID did not treat me well whatsoever. A lot of scary nights. One of the things that I told my sister when I got COVID was that, ‘Hey, I got it, and I don’t got a good version of it. I got a lot of COVID in me, but I am going to fight and beat it.’”
“I felt very guilty about the treatment I got,” he added. “And I feel that should be more widely available to Americans, to anyone in the world. I felt very guilty even getting something that could help me more just recover, stay healthy, stay alive. There is such mental strain through all this time, a feeling of guilt because of the resources I have, and I wish I could spread these resources with as many people as possible. The guilt, just a lot of demons I haven’t dealt with that I put to the back burner for basketball.”
Towns is only 25 years old. Throughout this year of continued battles with COVID, whether within his family or himself, Towns has more experience than most. When asked about the All-Star Game scheduled for next month in Atlanta, he didn’t mince his words. “I personally don’t believe there should be an All-Star Game, but what the hell do I know?” Towns said with a straight face. “Shit, I obviously haven’t dealt with COVID, probably a guy who has some insight into that. What should I know about COVID, right?”
Towns is taking a more vocal stance from the experiences he has unfortunately weathered, and the NBA — and the Player’s Association — should listen to him. Give Towns a seat at the table. Let him speak on an issue that has personally affected him and his family gravely, in a way that clearly nobody currently at the table is willing to do to prioritize the health and safety of the players or their loved ones over the almighty dollar. Towns is exactly what is needed.