This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2018.
Ever since Karl-Anthony Towns burst onto the scene as the 2014 Gatorade national high school player of the year, the incredibly tall human has been exceeding incredibly high expectations. He graduated high school early to join John Calipari at Kentucky, where he played his way into the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. He averaged 18.3 ppg as a rookie with the Timberwolves to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year award. This season he averaged 21.3 ppg and set career highs in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and rebounds per game. Hey, the big man knows how to aim high. So it's only fitting that he set his sights on the cover of ESPN's 10th anniversary edition of the Body Issue. On the set of his photo shoot, the Minnesota star told reporter Stacey Pressman all about how his body has transformed along with his game. Here's how Towns describes his journey, in his own words:
Growing up, I'd always been told that my biggest weakness was my body and how that was probably going to hold me back from accomplishing my dreams. It's funny -- full circle now ... I got the chance to prove everyone from college, high school, middle school wrong. I was that chubby kid with not the flashiest body, and now I'm able to represent myself and my family and all the journeys and the trials and tribulations that I went through to get to this body.
I think people are going to be surprised at how long my legs are compared to my torso, and my arms as well -- I am a very lanky fellow. I think it looks a little funny. But I think people are going to be surprised to see how much work I truly put into my body so that I can do what I do on the court.
Finding his superpower
I've always loved myself, always. When I was on the chubbier side, I thought that whatever God and whatever my body told me to be at that time, that's what it was. I'd say I grew more of an understanding about my body probably around my senior year in high school. I understood my body physically as an athlete. I had to fill out more, but I felt pretty good in my body.
Around seventh, eighth grade, I had a growth spurt from, like, 6-4 to 6-8. Oh man, my knees were killing me. [Laughs.] A growth spurt is a challenge for a young child, especially to always be different than the other kids. For me, I just found that as my superpower. You know, it's something that made me different. That's what made me special. I'd always been really tall -- and I just was very comfortable in my skin. I've never wanted to be short. Never wanted to be regular height. I always wanted to be myself. Now I'm 7 feet of sexy -- a lot of it.
When I came into the league, I asked a lot of people about who had the biggest foot, and I was told pretty unanimously that Robin and Brook [Lopez] did. Now we're all tied. We're in size 20s. Me, Brook and Robin reign as the Bigfoots of the big foot.
Getting serious about nutrition
A lot of times nutrition falls on the back burner for professional athletes. They worry so much about training -- getting your jumper right and all this stuff -- but they forget that they have to put gas in the Ferrari. I want to know every little thing about my body so that I can train at a smarter, more efficient pace. My mom being a nurse, I've always had a love for the medical field; I wanted to be in the medical field if the basketball thing didn't work out. Now I have a different way of using medicine to my advantage, which is finding every way I could improve my body from the inside so that the outside works even better.
I started taking it seriously in high school. I played for the Dominican national team, so I had a chance to talk to professionals, and the biggest thing they always said was how important nutrition was for their careers. I realized if I wanted to get into their stratosphere, I had to be at another level all around, not only with my training but with my eating. Nutrition has become a big part of my life since then.
My water intake has always been half of my body weight, so at 240, I'm doing 120 ounces of water. During the season, it's water with a little more sodium, so I can keep the water and retain the water in my body. I also upgrade that water intake by the amount of weight I lose during a workout session -- trying to add about 4 to 6 ounces per pound.
Even now, I have to work so hard to get my abs. Some people eat ice cream, doughnuts and drink soda all day and they have abs. I have to have a whole other spectrum. I have to eat super-clean food, water only, no sugar, no carbs, vegetables, chicken. My body was always on the chubbier side -- I was genetically made not to have abs.
"I love the grind of my job."
Since I came out of college, I feel like a physically new being. I changed my weight, my shoulders, my arms, my legs, getting stronger all over. Since making these changes, I think I've been able to play at a much faster pace for a longer time.
I love working out. I love the grind of my job. And I love the grind of the everyday challenge. I played all 82-plus games each year, including preseason. Never missed a practice. I'm always looking for ways to get better, and I think the biggest thing my body has a challenge with is keeping up with how much I really want to do in a day or in a month or in a week -- just having to always be on top of its game.
Being a versatile player takes a large amount of training, and I'm more than glad to do it every day so I can be the most complete player I can be for my teammates. I've worked on my craft tremendously to have a great 3-point shot. And then I also have the quickness to blow by a lot of centers, and I have the athleticism to finish at the rim.
Now I've just got to continue to improve my game in all aspects. I've got to get better all around. And that's going to happen. I could guarantee you that. I work tremendously hard every day on my craft, and that has never changed.
For more from the 2018 Body Issue, pick up a copy on newsstands starting June 29.
Set Design by James Dean/Walter Schupfer Management; Grooming by Erin Svalstad