After a weeks-long battle with COVID-19, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, the mother of Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, died Monday as a result of the virus, the team said.
Cruz-Towns, 58, had been battling the virus for over a month, and Towns initially revealed her condition in an Instagram video March 24. Cruz-Towns had been on a ventilator in a medically induced coma, Towns previously said. Her death is one of the first COVID-19-related deaths to shake not just the Minnesota sports scene but the sports world at large.
“Jackie was many things to many people — a wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend,” a family spokesperson said in a statement released by the Wolves. “The matriarch of the Towns family, she was an incredible source of strength; a fiery, caring, extremely loving person, who touched everyone she met. Her passion was palpable and her energy will never be replaced.”
Towns’ father, Karl Sr., had also tested positive for the coronavirus but was recovering. Towns has spoken often of how proud he was of his mother and the strength she often displayed.
That included her battle with COVID-19.
“There’s nothing like her passion, her emotion,” Wolves President Gersson Rosas said Monday. “She was a classic team mom that you never see in professional sports. … She had 15 kids every time she came around us. It just drew me back to Little League or high school where you see a parent that’s just passionate.”
Gov. Tim Walz was informed of Cruz-Towns’ death during his press briefing Monday.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve had the privilege and the pleasure of meeting Karl. You find very few people with just such a positive outlook,” Walz said. “I’m deeply sorry for the loss in their family. Unfortunately, this is starting to hit more and more.”
Condolences poured in to the Towns family from across the basketball world. Teammates such as Jarrett Culver, Jake Layman and Jarred Vanderbilt offered their sympathies.
“Damn man this hurts!!” tweeted Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, who has recovered from coronavirus. “Sending love and prayers your way @KarlTowns.”
Added John Calipari, Towns’ college coach at Kentucky: “[Towns] and his dad called us earlier, and we could tell something had happened. It’s one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to take. We were getting updates that she was getting better and now this.”
In the Instagram video Towns posted last month, he described the process of seeing her condition worsen — how she had developed a fever, had trouble breathing and required hospitalization in New Jersey, where the family lives. There was a point it appeared she was getting better, but Towns said, “things went sideways quick.” That’s when she had to be put in the coma and connected to a ventilator.
Towns revealed his mother’s condition to the public to encourage people to take the virus more seriously. He previously donated $100,000 to Mayo Clinic to aid in research. Cruz-Towns was a native of the Dominican Republic, and Towns has previously played for the Dominican national team. Cruz-Towns was a frequent fixture on Wolves road trips and was never shy to voice her support.
In an interview with the Star Tribune in 2018, Towns called himself a “mama’s boy.” He said his view of the world broadened when he accompanied his mother to her home in the Dominican Republic for the first time when he was a teenager.
“When it comes to her, he’s got her outspoken ways and passion,” Karl Towns Sr. told the Star Tribune. “Him and his mom both speak what’s on their minds, and they let people know what direction they’re going. When it comes to her, he’s got her passion. He always says what’s on his mind.”
Asked what parts of her were in her son, Cruz-Towns said, “Maybe the fearlessness.”
Towns’ former teammate Robert Covington said on Instagram that Cruz-Towns was Towns’ “rock.” He called her “a beautiful woman that opened her arms to me and treated me as one of her own from the moment I got to Minnesota and after.”
The Towns family, through the spokesperson’s statement, said they were thankful for the “medical warriors” at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and JFK Medical Center who took care of Cruz-Towns.
Rosas said the team had a virtual chapel service Saturday that was attended by 20-30 members of the organization. When one of the chaplains offered to pray for Towns’ mother, Rosas said, Towns made sure to include other teammates and staff members who have family or extended family going through similar issues related to COVID-19.
“That’s who he is. He’s a giving individual,” Rosas said. “He’s got an unbelievable heart. He cares about people and at this moment, it’s an opportunity for us to get back to him and be a family to him and his family during this difficult time. … Letting him know he’s not alone.”
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.