When he found out he had made the NBA All-Star Game for a second consecutive season, Karl-Anthony Towns was outside a movie theater screening of his first film role in the comedy “What Men Want.”
Perched on a bench, Towns was watching the announcement on TNT, and upon broadcaster Ernie Johnson saying his name, he let his iPhone fall to the floor. He needed both hands to bury his face and cry.
Soon his parents came running to congratulate him. Eventually the tears dried.
The next day after Timberwolves practice, Towns spoke about what that moment meant to him. How making the All-Star Game, which takes place Sunday in Charlotte, is his rainbow amid a stormy season, one that he said has taken a toll on him both personally and professionally.
Towns hasn’t discussed much about his personal life, except to say he had a friend die the week of the All-Star selection. Professionally, he said this season has taken a toll on his body.
“I’m a guy who keeps off social media and keeps myself off of being TMZ paparazzi and all this stuff. No one really gets to know what’s really going on in my life, and that’s how I like it,” Towns said. “If people knew everything I had to go through, not just anything else but just physically with my body, I went through a lot to get to this point, and I’m just glad I’ve come out stronger and I’ve come out able to play at this kind of level.”
The All-Star appearance comes after a season in which former teammate Jimmy Butler questioned Towns’ drive and ability to succeed both before Butler left Minnesota and after he was traded to Philadelphia.
The Wolves were 4-9 at the time of the trade, and after two energetic home wins last week — games in which Minnesota outscored the Clippers and Rockets by a combined 40 points with Towns on the floor — they sit at 27-30 at the break. That’s not where they want to be, but they do have a winning record since the trade, after Butler said they couldn’t win without him.
Much of it has come as a result of Towns’ overall brilliance. For the season, he is averaging 23.1 points and 12.0 rebounds. In his past 23 games, most of that coming since Ryan Saunders took over as interim coach, those averages are 26.5 points and 12.7 rebounds plus four assists and nearly two blocks.
This is a weekend to savor for the 23-year-old Towns, validation that despite what critics might say, his career is still on an upward trajectory.
“Formidable years a lot of times are in your 20s,” Saunders said. “And he’s getting better and better each day, and he’s getting more aware of leadership, things to do, things not to do and then just being a leader on the court as well. … You go through ups and downs, it’s about how you handle your downs, trying to stay even keel, and Karl’s done a good job with that.”
Towns joins Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love as the only Wolves players to make multiple All-Star teams. And as good as Towns is now, veteran teammate Luol Deng sees room for growth within that 7-foot frame.
“He’s still got a lot to learn from the game, but he’s so far ahead in terms of just his ability to score, creating mismatches and passing the ball,” Deng said. “I think it’s kind of scary how much growth he still has to do because of how far he is already.”
Sharing the good times
Towns will get to share the All-Star glow with one of his best friends, Nets guard D’Angelo Russell, whom the league tabbed to replace injured Victor Oladipo in the Eastern Conference. If they are on the court at the same time, though, it will be as opponents. Towns was chosen by Team LeBron, and Russell is on Team Giannis.
Russell and Towns go back to high school, when they squared off against each other. They went through the draft process together in 2015, when they were the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks. They are the first set of top two picks to play in an All-Star Game since Elton Brand and Steve Francis in 2002, according to the Wolves.
“The people who doubted [Russell] and hated on him, called him this and that, and thought he was done and washed up when he got traded to New York, they never got to see the real D’Angelo, and right now you’re just seeing a flower blossom in front of you,” Towns said.
All-Star weekend can be a flurry of activity, but Towns said he planned on making sure he and Russell hung out.
“When you love someone, you make time for them at any time,” Towns said. “Me and him, we’ll make time for each other. … When you play this game, especially to be an All-Star, that doesn’t just happen off pure talent, it happens off heart, determination, blood, sweat and tears every single day you’re putting in. It’s about consistency, and he’s been putting it up all year.”
Towns hit on a lot of those similar themes in the wake of his selection. When he heard his name called, he said he became emotional because of how much work he said it took to get back to the All-Star Game after last season.
“A lot of things could’ve went sideways, in my personal life, in work, but I stayed true to myself,” Towns said. “I stayed true to who I was, and I didn’t lose myself at all, in all of it.”
For a night, he gets to reap his reward.