When I heard the news on Sunday, my first thought went to my step-father, who is about the same age Flip Saunders was, and my dad, too, who is just a few years younger. I’m blessed with great father figures in my life. I don’t take that for granted. So when I got that email from the Wolves PR staff, I immediately thought, “Sixty is too damn young. What if I lost my dad? Or my step-dad? I need both of them. What would I do without them?” Maybe that’s selfish, but I think it’s only natural to appreciate and reflect on what you have in times of loss.
And man, did the Saunders family, the Timberwolves, and the state of Minnesota lose a good one. I had limited interaction with Flip, but every time I asked him a question in a scrum or at the postgame podium, he treated me kindly and answered thoughtfully. I tend to listen and observe when I’m part of a large media pack, and what I saw and heard was a guy who was affable, smart, funny, and generous. I soaked up a ton of basketball knowledge just being in his presence. It takes a special kind of person to willingly, patiently dispense knowledge about the game, even to media members and fans who were (often) critical of his teams and their performance. Flip didn’t care. He was going to explain things from his perspective as carefully as he could…
… Almost like a parent. Earlier today, Ricky Rubio described him as a “dad,” and the Wolves’ organization as a “family.” Flip had four children of his own, and in a lot of ways, he was a father figure and mentor to countless players and fellow coaches over the years. The overwhelming outpouring of grief, the stories of all the good he did, letting go of grudges, entertaining people with magic tricks, going the extra mile, his humility, all of it is a testament to the kind of man he was.
Reading all these stories makes me appreciate my own father figures, and they also make me wish I had known him better. They make me want to be better. A better friend, a better father, a better son, a better brother – and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. His goodness is a powerful thing.
Is. Not was. Present tense, even if he has passed.
Rest in peace, Flip Saunders.