Karl-Anthony Towns was able to play a basketball game for 31 minutes Wednesday night as the Timberwolves lost to the Clippers 119-112 at Target Center.
Towns announced his re-entry to basketball early in the first quarter with a putback dunk and a three-pointer on his way to 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Wolves scored 24 points in Towns' first seven-minute stint and looked like a different team offensively even with guard D'Angelo Russell out because of left leg soreness. The Wolves lost but Towns was back — and that was a victory in itself, especially after the battle the All-Star center said he had with COVID-19.
"I'm a high-risk case," Towns said. "COVID did not treat me well, whatsoever. A lot of scary nights."
To hear Towns tell it in a postgame media session that lasted over 21 minutes, that he was back on the floor at all was hard for him to fathom a few weeks ago after he contracted COVID. His bout, he said, was unlike that of other athletes, who seem to get over it quickly with few or no symptoms. He also spoke of the mental anguish, after he said the virus has claimed the lives of multiple family members, including his mother, Jacqueline. His genetic similarity to her, he said, was one contributing factor to the severity of his illness.
"I told my sister that … I got it, and I don't got a good version of it," Towns said. "I've got a lot of COVID in me, but I'm going to fight and I'm going to beat it."
He did eventually. Towns was healthy again, and that's good news in light of how hard COVID has hit his family. That he is now healthy enough to play in NBA games again — and seems to have avoided any long-term effects the virus can cause — is something the Wolves and fans shouldn't take for granted.
"I know fans and people who play fantasy sports all the time want Karl to come back on the court," Towns said. "It's supposed to be 12 days and he's on the court, but that ain't how life goes. Everyone's case of COVID is totally different. Every human and their underlying conditions are totally different and my underlying conditions did not play in my favor at all for COVID."
Towns didn't delve into specific symptoms he had other than to say, "I just was not feeling well whatsoever and the vitals weren't good, and decisions had to be made on my health." The Wolves had said they were making sure his lungs were functioning properly before clearing him to play Wednesday.
Towns said he felt "guilty" that he had access to treatments that aren't easily available to the general public.
"There's such mental strain during all this time, feeling of guilt because of the resources I have, and I wish I could spread these resources to as many people as possible," Towns said. "Guilt, just a lot of demons I haven't dealt with that I put to the back burner."
That's because basketball, eventually, came calling. Towns didn't exactly ease back into playing given his workload, and the Clippers didn't take it easy on the Wolves, with Kawhi Leonard shutting down any notion of an upset with 36 points, including several key fourth-quarter jumpers that kept the Wolves from making a run.
Despite the loss, Towns said it was "really nice" to play again, especially since he had thoughts that he might not play basketball again for a long time.
"Just to … be out there with these guys and just have a different energy come through my life — it was great to be out there," Towns said.
Especially since he was stuck inside for so long and stuck in his own thoughts without much contact to the outside world except through his phone.
When he first contracted COVID, Towns said his niece and nephew were crying on the phone after all that previously happened to his family. Towns posted on Instagram that he wouldn't "end up in a box next to grandma." That he would beat it.
"Jolani told me, 'That's what grandma said,' " Towns said. "So I was like, 'Don't say that. I'm going to beat it. Grandma taught me how to beat it and what I've got to do."
Now basketball, and the relentless NBA season, calls again.