MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Monday night friends, fans and competitors of Flip Saunders said thanks to the former Timberwolves coach who died last week.

“Everyone who came in contact with Flip as a person, not just as a coach, is blessed to have done so,” Tom Hanneman, who emceed the pregame tribute, said.

Monday was the first home game for the Timberwolves since Saunders’ death. The team held a pregame tribute for fans at Target Center and those watching at home.

Hours before the start of another Timberwolves season at Target Center, fans gathered across the street for a chance to leave a message and a memory for a coach who meant so much.

“They’re going to want to win for him, obviously, because it’s tough to go through as a team,” a young fans said.

Tough for fans, too, as they try and balance the loss of their beloved coach with the excitement of a new season.

“Great coach, good man,” one fan said.

“Class act, Class act,” another fan said.

“I’ve listened to pretty much every interview about him and yeah it sounded like he was a great guy. He was great for Minnesota basketball,” Timberwolves fan Erik Johnson said.

Johnson used his T-shirt to sum up what he feels should be the team’s rally cry for the season.

“It’s been rough for me. Every single great basketball memory, Flip has something to do with it,” Johnson said.

That’s why a nearly 20-minute tribute was held to honor Saunders before tip-off. It was filled with emotional messages from those closest to the legendary coach. There was a moment of silence, followed by cheers.

And then just as friends say Flip would’ve wanted, another season of Timberwolves basketball was underway at Target Center.

“He left his imprint on the team, got the whole squad together so we’ll see how far it can go,” a fan said.

John Lauritsen