On a memorable Monday when he accepted the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award by lunchtime and arrived in New York City by nightfall to represent his team at Tuesday’s draft lottery, young Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns started with a 7 a.m. workout that beat even new coach Tom Thibodeau to the office.
If he’s gifted enough, an NBA player can be named league MVP or an All-Star multiple times, but only once can he ever be honored as Rookie of the Year. Rarer still is the young man who’s voted so unanimously, as 130 media members did one year to the month after teammate Andrew Wiggins won the same award, albeit less decisively.
Towns and Wiggins became the first back-to-back winners from the same team since 1974. And for Towns, it was the payoff for all those hours spent in the gym with his father, Karl Sr., and others, hours that Towns actually tried to tally after he accepted the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy, named for the man who coached the Philadelphia Warriors to the NBA’s first title in 1947.
“This is a landmark in my career,” said Towns, who won’t turn 21 until November. “But it’s not the last one.”
Towns’ visiting 4-year-old niece and 2-year-old nephew celebrated the festive day with a 9 a.m. pizza party at his downtown Minneapolis apartment. Given that, maybe Big Uncle Karl’s early workout time wasn’t that out of place — “I had to find time sometime today,” Towns said — particularly not on such a busy day.
“He can’t stay out of the gym,” said his father Karl Sr., a former college star and longtime New Jersey high school coach. “I bet him he couldn’t for a month [after the season], he couldn’t even do it. You know what? This is what he loves. He loves basketball. This is his craft. This is what he does.”
So Towns worked out while the sun rose and returned to his 25th floor, two-bedroom apartment that overlooks downtown Minneapolis and the Mississippi River. Helped by a two-man fashion team that carried in plastic containers filled with dozens of ties, Towns dressed for the day’s success: He left for a late-morning Target Center news conference wearing a dark tailored suit made by New York City designer Rag & Bone, accented by a tie and pocket square in shades of purple by which to remember musician Prince.
Black loafers (no socks) and stylish spectacles completed the look, even though Towns doesn’t need glasses.
“Cartier, baby,” he said after putting them on. “Vintage.”
He stopped just before his left for the arena, his father and mother, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, sister Lachelle and her daughter Jolani Ammons and son Max Ammons, who sported a dashing, all-purpose red cape himself, out the door ahead of him.
“I’ve got to grab my wallet,” Towns said, turning back for a moment, “in case I need identification.”
He needn’t have bothered because Monday was his day at Target Center, where the NBA’s last in a series of postseason awards finally was announced. Or as Lachelle told her daughter when she asked why they had traveled from the East Coast, “I told you: Uncle’s No. 1 today.”
Five times in the past 32 years has an NBA player won Rookie of the Year unanimously, Portland’s Damian Lillard being the previous one to do so in 2013. Winner of the Western Conference’s rookie of the month award every time from November to April, Towns made he and Wiggins the first players from the same team to win in consecutive years since Buffalo’s Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio in 1973 and 1974.
Cleveland drafted Wiggins No. 1 overall in 2014, then traded him two months later to the Wolves in the trade that sent star Kevin Love to the Cavaliers. The Wolves drafted Towns first overall last summer.
“When you come into the league as the No. 1 pick, there are big expectations that come along with that and he exceeded all those expectations,” Thibodeau said. “When you look back at what he did, it was a very dominating Rookie of the Year, one of the best of all time for a player his age … We’ve got a lot of work to do and he’s got a lot of room for improvement. But when you look at what he did his rookie year and at his age, that’s pretty remarkable.
“He’s hungry. He’s driven. He’s mentally tough. Those are qualities you look for. He has to be a leader. He has to help sell the vision to the team.”
Towns thanked a long list of people during his acceptance speech for “having trust and faith in me.” Included were Wolves owner Glen Taylor, former interim coach Sam Mitchell and every teammate one by one with whom he played, whether each still is on the team’s roster or not.
He thanked his parents and sisters for their “presence of love and passion.” He also thanked “the man upstairs” and particularly thanked Flip Saunders, the Wolves’ late coach and vice president of basketball operations who drafted Towns last summer. Towns donated a car awarded by sponsor Kia to the Minnesota Leukemia Lymphoma Society in Saunders’ name.
“This isn’t an award that is won by one person,” Towns said, “but by one team and one organization.”
He promised Monday that his new trophy will go where all his rookie of the month and other individual awards reside: His parents’ New Jersey home, where Karl Sr. likely will sit down with it over dinner as he did the trophy his son won during All-Star weekend’s skills challenge.
Towns said he keeps only his three New Jersey state championship rings and a ring commemorating Kentucky’s 38-0 start last season at his Minneapolis apartment.
“It’s a great, prestigious award,” he said. “But like I’ve said before, I only keep championships and team awards with me and I’ll stay true to my words.”
He posed with the trophy — including one with mentor/teammate Kevin Garnett, posted on Garnett’s Instagram account — over several hours Monday before he and his family boarded a flight to New York, where his team has an 8.8 percent in Tuesday’s draft lottery to add a third No. 1 overall pick to its roster.
Before he left, Towns was asked if he felt lucky.
“I mean,” he said, “I don’t know how much more lucky I can get.”