Late on Tuesday evening, Karl-Anthony Towns bravely peeled back the curtain, sharing that his mother, Jacqueline, has been put into a medically-induced coma while she battles symptoms of Coronavirus. Towns also shared that his father, Karl Sr., has been sent home and placed in mandated quarantine — away from his wife — battling his own symptoms of the virus.
It’s awful. But I’m proud of Karl selflessly expressing himself, turning up the dial on a topic that absolutely needs a cranking. His message was clear: This virus is not a joke.
I don’t think people understand how good of a person Towns is. Karl is a public figure but he shines most in small and more intimate settings. A clearer version of who he is tends to come through when there is less noise.
It’s hard to describe because he simultaneously has this big personality that he can turn on. That Big KAT persona often overshadows so much of who he actually is when the cameras are off. His enigmatic personality in commercials, photo shoots and music videos, to me, feel more like a mask he has deemed to be necessary in the face of fame.
Still only 24 years old, Karl may still be learning how to best shape his public image. But I believe he absolutely knows who he is at his core. Those characteristics, the ones that actually define him, seem to have been passed down from his parents; two similarly boisterous individuals that emanate a humble sort of kindness.
The first time I met Jacqueline and Karl Sr. was at the Houston airport. We were all in town for the 2018 playoff series against the Rockets and happened to both be waiting for Ubers at the same time. When I greeted the couple, Karl Sr. informed me that his “son plays for the Timberwolves.”
I informed Mr. Towns that I was aware of who his son was.
It wasn’t a long exchange but the Towns’ Uber driver basically had to threaten to leave for the couple to cut off their conversing with me — some random, first-year-on-the-beat reporter. My read was that the couple was just the type of people that you don’t need to spend more than five minutes with to know that they’re genuinely good people.
It was the same feeling I got after my first extended period of time I spent with KAT. Before that 2017-18 season, I had the chance to go to his house for an interview. I was writing a story on the big plans Towns had for using his platform to expand his brand, so the invite was extended to watch him film a commercial for Kit Kat candy bars.
Naturally, Kit Kat wanted Towns to be the spokesperson for the company’s new Big KAT bar.
My biggest takeaway from that day was that Karl was just an extremely normal dude; a kid that just happened to be seven-feet tall with massive feet that curled over each step when he walked down his stairs. The Kit Kat film crew came to the same conclusion. (Not about his feet but about his personality. Probably his feet, too.)
The director of the shoot came over to me during the lunch break, maybe thinking I would be able to give an objective answer, and asked if Karl is always like this. I told him I was new and didn’t really know. The director made it clear that this was not how most celebrities handle these shoots. “He’s, like, actually making the most of this,” I remember the director saying.
While Karl was forced to stand in one place as the cameras rearranged for take after take, he would authentically break off into conversation with each camera person and producer. Karl had just moved into that house. You could tell the house was new by the many pictures sitting on the floor that hadn’t yet been hung up. This made Karl eager to share with whoever would listen what types of plans he had for decking out his new spot. That might sound like he was bragging, but he wasn’t. He was more just genuinely excited to decorate his living space, like a college kid with big plans to spruce up their first off-campus apartment.
Again, Karl was just really normal.
It’s not what I expected.
All the videos of interviews I had watched of Karl before that day had led me to falsely conclude that he was a little manufactured. Instead, I’ve come to learn that those shiny canned answers are just a mask for someone who doesn’t quite know how to handle it all yet. That seemingly manufactured confidence is a product of insecurity, not being inauthentic. Karl is just a little different than the majority of us who cower in the face of self-conscious moments. From an early age, Karl seemed to decide that fighting self-consciousness is done best with bravado.
Maybe he was taught that. Whatever it is, that’s Karl’s way.
And who are we to judge that? What would we do with a cloud of microphones and cameras shoved in our faces daily?
I’d be lying if I told you I don’t still get a bit annoyed when Karl uses his interviews as a stage. But that frustration fades when I remember that he’s just figuring it out.
I’ve seen plenty of examples of the other KAT. The real one who comes out when the cameras are off. There was another time I saw it after a game last season when I went into the media dining room to grab a water bottle shortly after leaving the locker room postgame. In the dining room, by himself, Karl was meeting with a family of a young boy who was fighting cancer. In those interactions, Karl was genuinely warm and engaging with not only the boy but his entire family. Before writing my gamer about another Timberwolves loss, I hung around to listen to the group break down their favorite cartoons. It was good. It was kind. And it was something Karl didn’t have to do.
Karl does love cartoons, though. When the locker room was open to the media before a game at the end of last season that didn’t carry much weight, the mood was light. Luol Deng and Jerryd Bayless were chopping it up with the media about the final season of Game of Thrones. Karl wanted to talk about what he was streaming from Cartoon Network. I had never heard of any of the shows.
Yeah, Karl is a little goofy; he doesn’t fit the typical mold of a superstar. He’d tell you that in an honest moment. But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with his mold. It’s just who he is. Thanks to his parents, I think Karl has been molded into a good person. I see him as being one of the rare professional athletes that is worth looking up to.
Like I said before, I’m proud of Karl for being vulnerable in peeling back the curtain and letting that other side of him show on Tuesday night. With a clearly broken heart, it only took a few sentences for Karl to decide that this was a time that it was okay to take off the mask.
Good for him. Now is a time for all of us to stop caring about the superficial things we may have bad habits of dwelling on; it’s a time to focus on the important stuff, like our families. Good on Karl-Anthony Towns for showing us the way.