Karl-Anthony Towns 'happy to be alive' after being hit by semi

Karl-Anthony Towns is in the prime of his NBA career and signed a $190 million contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves last September, but he said Monday he’s just happy to be alive.

Towns was traveling last Thursday with Timberwolves team trainer Kurt Joseph to the airport on southbound Interstate 35W near 38th Street in Minneapolis when they were stopped due to a crash ahead. The two were heading to New York as the Timberwolves were facing the Knicks in their first game after the NBA All-Star break. Towns played in the All-Star Game for the second straight year, scoring 11 points and grabbing three rebounds.

With Joseph driving and Towns in the passenger seat, a semi-truck barreled into them at an estimated 35 to 45 miles per hour. According to the State Patrol, the crash happened at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

“It happened too quick, I didn’t know what the hell hit me. We stopped and I looked at our trainer who I’m glad is safe as well, looked at him and complained about the car in front of us stopping so hard. I didn’t realize what he said until after when he was saying, ‘the truck is not slowing down behind us.’ He was real stone faced looking at me,” Towns said Monday. “I kept talking about the car in front of us and the next thing you know we got hit. I’m just glad everyone is safe, everyone’s alive. Obviously could’ve been much worse and in all honesty probably should not have made it out like I did. But I’m glad I did.”

Towns said he estimated in his situation, being hit by a semi-truck from behind traveling at that speed, that there was a five percent chance he would survive the crash. He said it was estimated there was a four percent chance he would avoid major injury, and a one percent chance to have a minor injury.

He ended up in the one percent.

“It’s been a blessed three days just to be here talking to you all. Being able to do what I’m doing is a blessing,” Towns said.

Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said Towns cleared the concussion protocol and is expected to play against the Sacramento Kings Monday night.

“We talked a good amount but you obviously want to make sure KAT the person it taken care of. That’s definitely put ahead of KAT the basketball player,” Saunders said.

Towns declined an ambulance at the scene, but was told by first responders he needed to be evaluated at the hospital. Towns said Monday he had been dealing with concussion-like symptoms, but met the team in New York Friday. He didn’t play against the Knicks Friday or the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday. It broke a streak of 303 straight starts since he was the Timberwolves No. 1 overall draft choice.

He never once considered staying in the Twin Cities to heal, rather than being out east with his teammates. He wanted to be with the team and at the very least, be a cheerleader and motivator. The Timberwolves beat the Knicks in New York, then lost the next night to the Bucks in Milwaukee.

“I wanted to be there for my teammates. I’m not a guy to stay back and watch them work, I want to be there in person. I want to high-five them coming off the court, I want to scream for them. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to be the best cheerleader I can be for them, even if I can’t participate,” Towns said. “It was just more being there in-person, I wanted to be there with my troops. I wanted to be there with my coaches. I wanted to do everything I can other than put the ball in the basket. It just meant a lot to me to be there for my teammates. I actually planned on playing in New York, that was the plan to play.”

In the aftermath of the crash, Towns opted to send a text to his parents rather than call them. He said he knew it would be too difficult, too emotional for them. He did call his sister, who thought he was joking.

She responded by asking if he was going to miss the Knicks game Friday night.

“I physically couldn’t do it. I don’t like when people worry about me. That was hard for me, I actually texted them. It was hard, I knew how bad it was, I knew how they would feel and react to it. The only person I did call was my sister. I called her and told her, because my mom and dad broke down,” Towns said. “I let her hear my voice and she thought I was playing.”

He joked Monday about his own teammates seeing the crash on their way to the airport, and driving by.

“I still make jokes to Taj (Gibson) every day about how he saw me in his crazy car wreck and just kept driving to the airport. He didn’t want to get a fine or something. It’s all fun and games, it’s all good to make jokes when no one gets hurt,” Towns said.

Towns is the face of the Timberwolves’ franchise, especially since the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia. He’s averaging 23.1 points and 12 rebounds per game for Minnesota, which is currently four games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference Playoffs.

Towns is the consummate teammate and one of the hardest-working players you’ll find. But even he realizes how quickly things can be taken out of your control. He was close to not only having his professional career be over, but maybe even his life.

“I’m just happy to be alive, happy to be here talking. It’s a blessing,” Towns said.