Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns named NBA’s 2023-24 Social Justice Champion

Karl-Anthony Towns honors the memory of his late mother, Jackie — who passed away in 2020 — every day in a number of ways.

Not the least of which is his commitment to spreading the lessons she taught him during their time together. Perhaps the most basic — and important — one of those lessons was love.

“I just try to spread love. My mother taught me the meaning of love, and I just want to continue the teachings that she’s given me in her life and spread it with the youth and every generation to come,” Towns said. “It’s just an ongoing journey that I have, and I feel that my purpose in life is to utilize this platform for the betterment of others.”

He’s certainly fulfilling that, as recognized Thursday, when Towns was named the 2023-24 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion by the NBA. The award “honors a current NBA player for pursuing social justice and upholding the league’s values of equality, respect and inclusion.” Towns was previously nominated for the award back in 2022.

“It means a lot. To have a name like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar be on an award and to be receiving that award as a guy who’s impacted the game not only on the court, but off the court, it means a lot,” Towns said. “Even when I was (previously) nominated … my girlfriend, she saw the excitement on my face to be recognized by a legend like that.”

The recognition is a result of the work Towns has done on multiple issues; one of which was his work and advocacy for expanded voter rights in Minnesota. He assisted in the passing of Bill HF28 – Minnesota’s Restore the Vote bill, which allows formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote.

He’s also shed a light on issues with mass incarceration.

Towns participated in community conversations and visited with the Minnesota Freedom Fund, New Justice Project, Minnesota Justice Research Center and All-Square, all organizations who played a role in passing the bill.

And that’s not all. Towns holds an annual coat drive with Hy-Vee and YouthLink to keep kids in need stay warm in the winter. He’s heavily involved with the team’s annual Pride Night at Target Center and produced the documentary “Forgiving Johnny,” which shows an LA County public defender who used new technology to successfully defend a client with developmental disabilities facing a 20-year prison sentence.

“It’s always something I wanted to do. I’ve said it before, I want to leave the world a better place than when I came into it. For my mom being an immigrant, coming over from Dominican Republic, and one of the things I remember young is that she was super excited and kinda had a celebration for getting her vote, her right to vote and getting her citizenship,” Towns said. “For me, I made that a key for me, especially with how things have turned out in Minnesota, in Minneapolis. I thought it was a great way to honor my mother and continue to fight for the right to vote. She realized her American dream when she got that, right? And I want other people to have that dream as well, and to realize it.”

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch always praises the quality of people the team has accrued on its roster. Towns is a shining example of that.

“We know the work he’s done and (how he’s) active in the community here,” Finch said. “To get that type of recognition, such a prestigious award, we’re very proud of him.”

How does Towns find the time to do so much in the community?

“Good scheduling,” he joked.

Along with some help from family and friends.

“I always dedicate so much of my life to basketball, but I have a very great support system that is willing to join me in these efforts,” Towns said. “Instead of having to feel that I’m splitting too much of my time, they join me. Like my family and my friends, who enjoy joining me in these charitable events that I have and things I want to do to impact the community.”

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