The Minnesota Timberwolves had their first home game of the season this past Monday, November 2, 2015 just one week after the Timberwolves head coach Philip Saunders, affectionately called ‘Flip,’ passed away on October 25. At the age of 60, after losing his battle with Hodgkin lymphoma, Flip Saunders leaves his team on the upswing. The Timberwolves’ future was bright this season under his leadership, and the acquisition of the number one draft pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, was the icing on the cake for the franchise. Towns had to make his home debut without the very man who brought him to the team…
This Monday marked the beginning of a great era for the Timberwolves but the ending to an even greater one.
“You can see we’re hurting,” said Karl-Anthony Towns. “We lost our point guard. We lost the person who runs this whole machine. I know when we found out, it was a hard moment for all of us, a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
You could probably listen for hours about Flip’s accomplishments, his accolades, and the great contributions he made to the game of basketball during his coaching career that spanned five decades.
However, as the tribute to his life honoring his memory and contributions streamed on the megatron above the court, it was obvious that Flip was worth more than his accomplishments to the NBA community. A number of NBA names including Commissioner Adam Silver, Stan Van Gundy, Pat Riley, Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Larry Bird, Dave Joerger, and several of his former players, Sam Cassell, Kevin Love, Chauncey Billups, and John Wall, joined current Timberwolves players, coaches and staffers in discussing what Flip meant to them.
They mentioned, even more than his numerous coaching accomplishments, the way Saunders made them feel. He was constantly praised for his listening skills and compassion for players all along the spectrum of skill.
“And I think the ones that had the most emotion of all of them was the veterans. They had the longest time with Flip. I was blessed to have the short time I had with him, to meet him and be in his presence, talk to him, touch him, laugh with him. But it doesn’t resemble the amount of significance he had with the veterans.” – Karl-Anthony Towns
This statement couldn’t hold more truth concerning Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett probably had the closest and longest lasting relationship (in the NBA) with Saunders. Garnett entered the NBA under Saunders as a teenager and returned to Minnesota earlier this year after Saunders convinced him to end his career where it started. Garnett has mostly declined comments on the matter, saying only that the Wolves “are all carrying each other and holding each other up […]. Tough week for all of us, but we’re managing.”
The Wolves also debuted the patch they will be wearing on their jerseys this season to honor Saunders.
It’s safe to say that a legend has gone home. He will truly be missed, but we’ll catch you on the Flip side, Coach Saunders.