Minnesota sports fans were devastated Sunday afternoon, and it had nothing to do with the Vikings slow start against the Detroit Lions.
The Timberwolves announced on social media that Flip Saunders, a beloved head coach and president of basketball operations, had died after a four-month battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was 60 years old, far too young even for someone who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Throughout the diagnosis, the Timberwolves organization seemed confident he would get through it and eventually return to the sidelines. But his life ended far too soon. He never got the chance to coach this year’s No. 1 pick, Karl-Anthony Towns. He would’ve love to have more time mentoring the other young players in Andrew Wigginz, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad.
Now, the Timberwolves are dedicating this season to Saunders and playing in his honor. Minnesota loved Saunders as much as he loved Minnesota. Here are six reasons why Minnesota will always remember Flip.
He Is “One Of Us”
He’s originally from Ohio, but Flip Saunders came to the University of Minnesota and never left the state. He was a star point guard for the Gophers, his family resided in the west Twin Cities metro and his kids attended the U of M. Minnesota native Tyus Jones said it best, “Growing up in Minnesota, you know how big of a deal Flip Saunders is to the basketball community.”
Saunders was just as dedicated to his daughters on the dance team as he was to teaching the pick-and-roll at the NBA level. He made regular appearances at high school and college events, and his heart was always with Minnesota.
Saunders Led The Timberwolves To Years Of Success
It’s easy to like a guy who wins, but Flip Saunders brought Timberwolves basketball to the highest spot it’s ever been. He led the Timberwolves with Kevin Garnett to the 2004 Western Conference Finals. Saunders led the organization to eight straight playoff appearances. The Timberwolves haven’t been to a postseason since that run to the Western Conference Finals.
Drafted Kevin “The Big Ticket” Garnett
Saunders and the Timberwolves took a chance before the 1995 season, drafting a lanky high school star in Kevin Garnett back when prep players could go straight to the NBA. He eventually became the face of the franchise and under Flip’s leadership, won an MVP award with the Timberwolves. Fans remember Garnett standing on the scorer’s table celebrating with fans after Minnesota beat Sacramento in Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference finals in 2004. Garnett took to social media to mourn Saunders’ death in a photo that went viral. The two were extremely close.
Got Andrew Wiggins For Kevin Love
It was the worst kept secret in Minneapolis. Everyone knew Kevin Love wanted to play elsewhere in the hopes of getting an NBA title. Flip Saunders wouldn’t part ways with him without getting the most value for him. That ended up being last year’s Rookie of the Year in Andrew Wiggins, the rights to Thaddeus Young (no longer in Minnesota) and Anthony Bennett, who was recently waived by the Timberwolves. Wiggins was the centerpiece of the deal, and Saunders made sure they wouldn’t part ways with Love without getting Wiggins.
Always Made Time For Fans
Flip Saunders was always a busy man as a coach and executive with the Timberwolves, but he made the fans in Minnesota a priority. Since his death, many stories have been told of fans getting autographs from Saunders or pictures taken with him. He was known to send cards to families with children fighting disease. Most professional sports coaches wouldn’t make a lot of time for fans and ticket holders outside of normal obligations. Saunders made Timberwolves fans a priority.
Talked More Than Basketball With Media
Since Saunders’ death, many Twin Cities media members have taken to the broadcast air to tell their favorite stories about Flip. Most of them had nothing to do with basketball, and many of them were conversations about life in general. He would often ask local media members about their families, even give some gifts when they added to their family. Flip’s engaging and fun-loving personality made him a likeable guy, which made the news of his death even harder to take for most in Minnesota.
Flip Saunders will be missed. The best thing the Timberwolves can do this year is dedicate the season to his honor. What better way to do it than find a way to make the playoffs.