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Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell have overcome the uncomfortable to use their voices

The Timberwolves’ star duo discuss their activism during the offseason

On May 29, Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns was a surprise attendee at a George Floyd rally and news conference. Days later, Wolves teammate D’Angelo Russell spoke at a rally in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, to protest the police shooting of Breonna Taylor.

For these two Timberwolves who have developed a kinship, it has been important for them to use their NBA platforms even when it’s been most uncomfortable this year.

“Me and [Russell] have had conversations about understanding that, and understanding the power of this moment and this opportunity,” Towns said. “How can we use it to change the world?”

Towns and Russell, who first met when they played against each other in high school, were selected first and second, respectively, in the 2015 NBA draft by the Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. Early in their careers, the two bonded like brothers despite playing in different cities.

On Feb. 6, they joined forces in Minnesota when the Golden State Warriors dealt Russell to the Timberwolves and landed Andrew Wiggins in return. Towns and Russell didn’t get a chance to play with each other for long, however, as the NBA season was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. (The Wolves, with a 19-45 record, weren’t among the 22 teams invited to the NBA’s bubble to complete the 2019-20 season.)

Towns has been tragically impacted by the pandemic. His mother, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, died on April 13 at age 58 due to complications from COVID-19. While Towns was still mourning his mother’s passing, he believed it was important to stand up against police brutality and racial injustice following the death of Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis while in police custody. Towns was present during a press conference for a rally for Floyd that was attended by former NBA player Stephen Jackson and other local dignitaries.

D’Angelo Russell (left), formerly of the Golden State Warriors, talks with Karl-Anthony Towns (right) of the Minnesota Timberwolves after the game on Jan. 2 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Looking back, Towns said, “My mom would have wanted for me to be there.

“It gave me the push, the motivation to go. I found strength in myself to do something for others even when,” said Towns, 25. “I told D’Lo [Russell] when he asked me, ‘It’s always easy to do the right thing when it’s easy for you. But it’s very hard to do the right thing when it’s very inconvenient for you.’ And that is why I went. I knew it was the right thing to stand up for racial injustice and to find ways to help the youth and spread the message that this police brutality and racial injustice has to stop. Especially in a community that has given me the opportunity to live the life I live. …

“But I really just feel like it was the strength of my mother that gave me the strength to even get out of the house and go outside.”

Russell told The Undefeated that Towns’ presence at the Floyd rally showed what type of fighter his teammate is.

“You try to go out and be the best person. You try to go out and do the right thing. But when a curveball is thrown your way, that is the true test of character,” Russell said. “We saw those guys come together, let their guard down and just try to be there for one another. It was amazing to see. Seeing that is what gives everybody that fight every day. You see those types of events occur and you say, ‘I am going to do what I can every day.’ That small gesture matters.”

Floyd’s death sparked protests worldwide. It also brought more attention to the tragedy of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman shot to death by police in her home on March 13 during a raid turned wrong.

Russell marched in remembrance of Taylor in Louisville on June 6.

While it is common for Russell to play in front of thousands of people, he said, he was nervous when he grabbed a megaphone to speak at the Taylor rally.

“I felt like I had to be there being in the city that I’m from,” said Russell, 24. “I was nervous. It was kind of out of character to do that. I’m not the type of guy to do that. But I had to. I kept making eye contact with a lot of people and I kept seeing the pain out of those people’s eyes, too, with what they have been dealing with. What came to my mind was just everybody is different in some way, shape or form.

“If you are uneducated to what is going on, that is one thing. Continue to get educated. But we can control our peace. We can control our voice and what we say to others. We can control the things we can control. That is the main focus to me. Preaching on controlling how you treat people. You can’t control the past. You can control the future with a small bit of change every day, every month and every year just going out of your way to just be a positive energy around people.”

Towns respected Russell’s presence at the Taylor rally.

“He is doing an amazing job behind the scenes trying to help out. Trying to lend his voice to change. It’s great to have support from a brother like that in everything you do, especially when you are trying to change the world,” Towns said.

On Sept. 23, only one of the police officers involved in the Taylor shooting was indicted by a grand jury. Even so, Russell is optimistic that “change is happening” in Louisville, nationally and worldwide in the aftermath of Taylor’s and Floyd’s deaths. For example, in his hometown, Yvette Gentry was named Louisville Metro Police Department’s police chief on Oct. 1, the first Black woman to hold the position.

“As crazy as it is to say, change is happening. So much change is happening,” Russell said. “It may not look like it. But everywhere we’ve been, everywhere I’ve been, everything I see on social media, it’s a continuous fight. That is all you can ask for right now is continue to keep fighting and raise awareness to that when you have the platform to do so.”

Russell and Towns plan to continue to bring awareness to social injustice and police brutality this season.

“We are only one mistake at a young age from having it all taken away from us or losing everything we worked so hard to build. Or worst come to worst, being in between those yellow-taped lines,” Towns said. “We understand how precious and how important this moment is. For both of us to be Black men, me not only being Black but Afro Latino, we really understand that this moment is not supposed to happen for us. And we got to make the most of it to show the young generation that this is possible. It is possible to keep your morals and values, be a professional in all of this and not lose yourself. And to not follow the trends, but show the world what it is to be a good human being.”

“What is next for us? Throughout the year we will keep coming together as an organization to keep bringing that,” Russell said. “Minnesota is a place where we can continue to bring that voice.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.