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Karl-Anthony Towns believes no one in the NBA can beat him and Andrew Wiggins in ‘Call of Duty’

The Timberwolves big man also looks up to Muhammad Ali and prides himself on being humble

There’s little doubt that Karl-Anthony Towns is the future of the NBA. After the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft, the 7-foot center out of the University of Kentucky was named the 2016 Rookie of the Year. Yet, despite his rapid rise to stardom, the 21-year-old big man continues to be a big kid at heart. He has no shame in saying that he’s still an avid gamer who loves himself some Call of Duty. One of his endorsement deals is with Activision, the publisher of the first-person shooter franchise. For the second straight year, Towns attended Los Angeles’ annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, where he played Call of Duty: World War II months before the game’s November release. While at the video game conference (which was held before this year’s NBA draft, when All-Star Jimmy Butler was traded to the Timberwolves), Towns talked gaming, his hero Muhammad Ali, and the first big purchase he made after making it to the NBA.

Not every professional athlete is a spokesperson for a video game publisher. What made you sign with Activision?

I only like to do things that I truly love, and I loved Call of Duty since I was a young boy. I’ve played every single one. To get the chance to work with one of the most prestigious, famous gaming franchises ever is amazing. I can’t wait to have a chance to play this game more, and get to really dive fully into being a Call of Duty gamer again.

What’s your favorite Call of Duty of all time?

The way I’ve been seeing how this game has been developed, I think [World War II] may be right up there. It’s going to be the best one and most memorable one for my generation … it’s one of the most nostalgic-feeling games, with boots to the ground again.

Karl-Anthony Towns, sponsored by Activision, visits the “Call of Duty: WWII” booth during E3 2017 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Colin Young-Wolff/Invision for Activision/AP Images

PlayStation or Xbox?

I’m an Xbox guy. It’s just because my hands are so big, and playing is better with an Xbox controller.

“I’ve just been blessed to have a chance to wear a jersey, and have a lot of people watch me do it.”

Who’s the most famous person you’ve played against on Xbox Live?

I’d probably say Michael Phelps.

Is he good?

He’s very good. He’s an adamant gamer like me, so it was fun to get a chance to play with him.

Besides yourself, who’s the best Call of Duty player in the NBA?

From what I know … it has to be Andrew Wiggins. It’s funny that you have two great Call of Duty players on the same team, but we found a way in Minnesota to make it happen.

Do you think you guys could take on any other NBA duo without a problem?

I guarantee Andrew and I can take any other duo in the NBA.

Who’s your favorite athlete of all time?

I have a true love for boxing, and I love Muhammad Ali, what he stood for, what he was able to give to the culture. He has that feeling that only the legends truly have, where they’re remembered so much. Their presence is still felt, regardless of whether they’re here are not. A hundred years from now, we’ll still be talking about how great Muhammad Ali was to the world.

You went to the University of Kentucky for a year. Did you ever get a chance to cross paths with Muhammad Ali?

I did. My year in Kentucky, I not only got to cross paths with him — we got to go to the Muhammad Ali Center, watch a movie with him and also take pictures with him. It was great. For the condition he was in, you know he has to be a true legend, where even not saying a word, you feel his presence, you feel him speaking to you. That’s the effect that Muhammad Ali has on people.

Have you ever been starstruck?

You know what? I haven’t. I grew up with the idea that everyone’s the same, and I truly believe that. Even now, I don’t see myself as any more than just a regular ol’ basketball player. I’ve just been blessed to have a chance to wear a jersey and have a lot of people watch me do it.

“I grew up with the idea that everyone’s the same, and I truly believe that.”

When did you realize you were famous?

I don’t know. I really don’t even see myself as famous. I just see myself as a regular guy.

Do you have any superstitions? Is there anything in particular you do before a big game?

No, because for me, that’s the thing — when a big game comes up, you don’t change your routine. I think it’s the same regardless of who we’re playing or regardless of the workout or practice. Get the same work in, do the same things, because when you have a routine, every game is the same game.

What’s one bad habit that you wish you could shake?

I don’t know of any bad habits I really have. It’s weird. … That’s something you need to ask my parents about.

What was your first major purchase after you got drafted?

I paid off my parents’ mortgage. I didn’t really need anything for myself. I just wanted a place to live and to play basketball. I never needed anything extravagant to get the job done.

How did it feel to pay off your parents’ mortgage?

It was amazing. It was a great honor. When you’ve been struggling your whole life financially, and just to have that ability to take that burden off my parents’ back and let them have that first breath of relief, it’s amazing.

If you could tell your 15-year-old self one thing, what would that be?

I wouldn’t even say anything. I would let myself learn from the same mistakes and go through the same experiences that I went through to get to this point. I think that the journey is not about making the right choices, it’s about what you do when you make the wrong ones.

What will you always be a champion of?

Anyone living, and doing what they love, and following their dreams, is a champion of life. So I’d say I’m a champion of life.

Where do you get your courage from?

Experience. I think it’s the experiences from my parents. I got courage by living and making it to this age, and through the struggle I found a way to get through anything.

Liner Notes

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at Andscape. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s Sneaker Box video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.