On Sunday, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced that head coach, president and minority owner Flip Saunders passed away from cancer at 60 years old. In the hours following, a torrent of love and prayers poured in from across the basketball world -- from old players, old coaches and old rivals alike.
We rounded up just a handful of the many moving tributes.
1. Kevin Garnett says goodbye to his career-long, decades-old mentor
Perhaps one of Saunders’ most well-known students of the game, Kevin Garnett was both eased into the NBA under Saunders’ guidance in Minnesota and was persuaded by him to waive his contract's no-trade clause to return to the Wolves last season. When many fans think of Minnesota hoops, they think of The Big Ticket, but what they may not know is that Garnett may have never become so deeply ingrained with the Timberwolves family if it weren’t for his relationship with Saunders.
2. Stephon Marbury reflects on his growth under Saunders’ tutelage
The oft-controversial, always opinionated NBA alum Stephon Marbury wrote of Saunders filling the father-figure role in his life, giving Marbury the “foundation” for how he would approach the game in the nearly two decades that have passed since his freshman year in the NBA.
“You taught me how to play the pick and roll but you also taught me how to pick up and roll with the good and bad in the life … I thank you for giving me unconditional love as if I was your son when I was so young.”
3. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo thinks back on their 30-year friendship
Like Saunders, Spartans coach Tom Izzo is known for his success on the court. But in his tribute on Sunday, Izzo made sure to prioritize Saunders’ “humanity” and “humble” nature over his time and tenure on the hardwood.
Flip had many great qualities, and an outstanding coaching resume, but what made him special was the way he treated people. It didn’t matter if you were one of his players, an opposing player or coach, front office personnel or first-year intern, loyal fan or heckler, media or critic, or simply someone he passed on the street, he treated everyone with utmost respect …
To Flip, everyone was special. He was gracious in defeat, humble in victory, and he was always willing to help out other coaches … Basketball and, more importantly, humanity lost a great man today, but Flip’s positive impact on everyone’s life that he touched will leave a lasting legacy – one which can inspire and drive us all.”
Izzo and Saunders first connected just about three decades ago when they went head-to-head as collegiate players. Since then, they’ve coached for each other and with each other. Their friendship, Izzo wrote, was founded on hoops, but quickly grew into something deeper: “But inevitably, those conversations that started out as a basketball chalk talk would turn to our families, and other more important matters. Flip had a passion for coaching and basketball, but he also had amazing balance in his life."
4. Kevin Love puts aside past differences, remembers the man that helped him grow
Former Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love famously wanted out from Minnesota, the team that had drafted him and raised him through his NBA infancy. Amid a situation that would prove difficult to navigate for even the most suave of NBA front office personnel, Saunders waded through the tricky trade-demand waters, ultimately finding a solution that would give Love what he wanted -- see Cavaliers, Cleveland -- while also benefitting the longterm health of his beloved Timberwolves.
And Love hasn’t forgotten that professionalism.
5. John Wall thanks Saunders for his D.C. mentorship
Saunders was John Wall’s first coach in the NBA, drafting the soon-to-be All-Star in 2010 and showing him the ropes during his first year and a half in the league.
6. Those who were guided by Saunders chime in with words of gratitude, love and condolence directed toward their former leader and his family
From Saunders’ newest class of rookies to those NBA vets he coached two decades ago, a bevy of his former players felt the need to express their gratitude.
6. Those outside of his coaching tree spend Sunday praising his legacy as well
Players who were never on the Timberwolves or the Wizards, the Pistons or the Golden Gophers sent their prayers to the Saunders family after the tragic news broke yesterday, as Saunders’ kindness and basketball smarts were well-known throughout the league -- in the Midwest and beyond.
One of Saunders’ last tweets read: “The outpouring of support today has been overwhelming, has truly reminded me that the goodness of people should never be questioned.”
Now, in the aftermath of his passing, we remember the “outpouring of support” he has shown others throughout the years, recalling his “goodness” and resting assured that, as he phrased it, it will “never be questioned.”
Rest in peace, Flip. You’ll be missed.
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