The news Friday was both sobering and sad.
The Timberwolves announced their game with Memphis, scheduled to be played Friday night at Target Center, had become the 13th NBA game postponed as the league battles the effects of COVID-19.
And then: Karl-Anthony Towns, the team's star center, whose family has been ravaged by the virus, announced he had tested positive.
The game, according to the league, was postponed because of "health and safety protocols." Gersson Rosas, Wolves president of basketball operations, said the team thinks it has the outbreak contained to a small number, mentioning there have been two positive tests and one player under isolation for potential exposure. According to a league source, the NBA postponed the game out of caution to await further information regarding contact tracing.
Listening to Rosas, the impression was it would have been very difficult to move forward with a game in the wake of Towns' positive test in any case. Towns said in December that he not only lost his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, to the virus but also six other family members. His father, Karl Sr., caught the virus but recovered.
"This was pretty significant to us," Rosas said. "To our organization, to our family. That positive was very impactful. And our team, our organization, wasn't prepared to move forward tonight.
Towns announced the news of his positive result on Twitter.
"Prior to tonight's game, I received yet another awful call that I tested positive for COVID," he said. "I will immediately isolate and follow every protocol. I pray every day that this nightmare of a virus will subside and I beg everyone to continue to take it seriously by taking all the necessary precautions. … 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."
Towns said before the season started that COVID and its impact on his family was still weighing heavily on him. "I never been mentally in a good place since that woman went in the hospital," he said, referring to his mom. "It's just getting harder and harder every day as I keep losing people."
Rosas said there had been a positive test Thursday. Through contact tracing the team discovered another exposure. Then came Towns' positive Friday. "We feel like it's a pretty isolated, protected situation with those exposures,'' Rosas said. "Fortunately, for the most part, we've tested negative and been able to move forward."
But the Towns test hit hard.
"It's heartbreaking for him to have to go through this ..." Rosas said. "It's a lesson for all of us. Basketball is a microcosm of society right now. You can do the right things — our protocols are strong, our staff has done an unbelievable job of making sure we test, we mask, we follow the protocol. [But] this virus is powerful and it's creative. We're not the only ones dealing with this. … But it hurt. Karl is the most important part of this organization for what he's gone through. For what Karl Sr. has gone through. It couldn't be more heartbreaking today."
Until this week the Wolves had been one of the few teams not hit with absences caused by the virus. But that changed Thursday when the team announced both Ricky Rubio and Juancho Hernangomez would miss Friday's game because of "health and safety protocols."
With Rosas saying there had been two positive tests, that means either Rubio or Hernangomez had tested positive or had been exposed to it. The Star Tribune on Thursday confirmed a report from the Athletic that Hernangomez would be isolating, likely up to 10 days. Under NBA guidelines, any player who tests positive for the virus must sit out at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms.
Wolves radio voice Alan Horton tweeted that Wolves staff and "a half-dozen players" were on the arena floor preparing for a walkthrough late in the afternoon Friday when they were told of the postponement.
Rosas lauded the job the Wolves have done following protocols. He thanked the league.
"We don't pick these situations, they pick us," Rosas said. "And a lot of it comes back to how we respond to it. … We're going to continue to do the right things, continue to move forward as a family and get through this hardship."
It is unclear whether Monday's game at Atlanta will be affected, but Rosas said the team would move forward "and do the best with what we have'' whenever the league gives them the go-ahead to return to the court. "Hopefully this is the worst of it," he said.
This is the latest in a number of virus-related postponements that have hit the league, and it comes as the NBA and the league's players association announced on Tuesday stiffened protocols players must abide by.
For at least two weeks, the league and union said, players and staff will be required to remain at home when in their home market and are prohibited from leaving their hotels while on the road except, primarily, for practices and games.
Staff writer Chris Hine contributed to this report.