Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns seems like a good person. This perception, formed over the past several months of merely observing and listening to the No. 1 overall pick, should not be taken as a fact. There are too many examples of people throughout history from all walks of life — certainly not just athletes — who have a public persona that does not match their behind-the-scenes existence.
As such, any opportunity to see an athlete like Towns away from a basketball court or a media scrum is a chance to make a better-informed decision about him as a person. To some fans, that doesn’t even matter. To them, as long as a player produces on the field/court/ice, what they do off it is irrelevant. Others will buy the public persona no matter what. Still others overcorrect and assume the worst about star players.
In any event, Thursday presented a chance to see Towns away from the court — albeit at a manufactured corporate appearance, but one that had potential. Towns surprised 15 boys and girls from a YMCA in North Minneapolis with $150 DICK’S Sport Goods gift cards at the store in Richfield as part of DICK’S “Sports Matter” initiative. He shot baskets with the kids in the store and took them on a shopping spree to help them use their gift cards.
These types of giveaways are common around the holidays. Caribou Coffee teamed up with Zach Parise. Former North Stars players shopped Friday at Toys ‘R’ Us, purchasing items to donate to Toys for Tots. It’s good PR for the stores and the athletes. It helps people in need. It makes for good video. Everyone is happy.
I was particularly interested in Towns, though, on a number of levels — first and foremost being he is barely 20 years old himself, only a handful of years older than some of the kids he was surprising Thursday. Tabbing someone that young as a role model can be a lot to put on them, but that’s where Towns finds himself.
What I look for at events like this are signs that an athlete isn’t just going through the motions. These are obligations, yes, but do the athletes understand just what they mean?
Towns checked all the right boxes in his introduction to the kids, a made-up ruse in which it was pretended that the kids needed basketballs to shoot on one of the in-store hoops, whereby Towns emerged from a hidden doorway with basketballs in hand. He was engaging and obliging, even honoring a request to dunk on one of the baskets. He walked around with the kids for a good 15 minutes, checking out shoes and other merchandise.
Then there was a brief break so Towns could chat with assembled media members. But before that, while a member of the DICK’S team was doing on-camera interviews, there was a moment that stands out above the rest when trying to assess Towns’ character.
Towns was chatting with a couple corporate folks who were handling the event. I was several feet away, within earshot but not in the conversation. Unprompted, Towns started talking about how the event was going so far. He conveyed that he felt like he had spent a lot of time already with the younger kids, but that he wanted to make sure once the interviews were done that he got a chance to spend more time with the older kids. The gist was that he wanted to spread his time equally and ensure everyone got the most out of the experience, himself included.
A minute later, he was on camera, providing the requisite sound bites about loving to see the smiles on kids’ faces when he walked in to greet them. Anybody can say that. I’m almost positive Towns meant it.
“Almost positive” is about as close as we can get to knowing what athletes — or anyone, really — are all about. So consider that a compliment and a further indicator that Towns is, indeed, the good person he seems to be.