NBA Stars And Coaches Share Heartfelt Stories About Flip Saunders

Rest in peace to the ever-humble Flip Saunders.

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

Forever in my heart....

Posted by Kevin Garnett on Sunday, October 25, 2015

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

My heart and all of my love goes out to Flip Saunders Family as your leader leaves this earth in the flesh. His spirit lives in the present as we speak. In 1996 Flip became a father figure and my first #NBA coach. Wow how fast time blows by. Our conversations were so meaningful in ways that helped me understand the game of life by explaining the game of basketball. Your kind soul and loving ways helped me understand how to play the most important position in the sport of basketball. You gave me not only the chance to perform at a high level but a chance to communicate my thoughts on the game. 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. As a rookie we had so many conversations in such a short time period. You said "The point guard has to be the extension to the coach" These words lived inside of me as I've had my share of ups and downs with coaches. I guess when I left you I went on a journey to end up with a similar coach 7,000 miles away. I thank you for giving me my foundation in how to play the professional way. I thank you for giving me unconditional love as if I was your son when I was so young. It was so needed as KG and I needed all of it to get where we are now. What an impact you've had on so many humans on earth. What a father you've been to your children as I can remember Ryan aka RyeKnow when he was a little boy. We will miss you as a piece of your children's hearts have been taken but we will celebrate you forever. Thank God that love is the most powerful thing to give and receive. The love from all will be shared to help the healing process from the pain of your flesh not being present. I know you will RIP because you did all of what you did on earth in your lifeline. I say #FlipForever as we all grow from your teachings and messages. I LOVE YOU and I'll miss you until we meet again. #LoveisLove P.S As for your amazing Wife Debbie and girls Mindy, Rachel, and Kimberly thank you for sharing your dad with all the people who's lives your dad touched. I can feel your pain because I know your love for your dad. I pray for peace in your heart.

A photo posted by Stephon X. Marbury (@starburymarbury) on

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. 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also paid tribute to Saunders along with an assortment of front office officials from around the basketball "fraternity." 

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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