Your Weekly Annotated Wolves Links: Flip Saunders Tributes
Flip Saunders was laid to rest in a private ceremony yesterday. Over the past week, countless stories, tributes, and testaments to “our point guard” and “our coach” have been shared on various platforms, from radio interviews with those who knew him best (KFAN’s Dan Barreiro has been especially tremendous), moments of silence held in arenas across the league, and heartfelt posts around the web.
If you’re a Wolves fan, chances are you’ve already read a few of the posts featured below. But in case you missed anything, here is a (relatively exhaustive) list of some of the finest celebrations of Flip’s life I could find.
THE BEAT GUYS
Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune
When an uncle once told him he wished little Flip were 4 inches taller, little Flip answered that he wouldn’t have tried so hard if he had been 4 inches taller. Saunders was generously listed at 5 feet, 11 inches tall.
“Don’t listen to what people say,” Saunders told a reporter in 2009, “because they don’t understand the will that you have.”
Writing obituaries can’t be easy, but Zgoda blends information and heart beautifully here.
Jon Krawczynski, Associated Press
The Twin Cities will say goodbye to one of their fiercest advocates, a Cleveland native who called this place home even when he didn’t have to.
The basketball world will say goodbye to a true ambassador, one who would buoy the spirits of recently fired coaches by inviting them to visit and collaborate, show up unannounced at a player’s camp and entertain the kids with magic tricks and spring for Girl Scout cookies for a few star-struck fans as they exited the arena after a game.
And his family will say goodbye to the patriarch who gathered everyone together at their cabin every Fourth of July for a spirited game of whiffle ball, followed his three daughters around the country for dance competitions and proudly watched his son work his way up the NBA coaching ranks.
Saunders gave long-suffering Timberwolves faithful a far bigger gift: hope.
With all due respect to the other great writers who cover the Wolves’ beat, Jon is the best at it, and he knocked his Flip retrospective out of the park.
Britt Robson, MinnPost
I have missed Flip Saunders since his setback from chemotherapy caused him to be hospitalized and separated from basketball activities two months ago. But his death leaves a new depth of missing.
I’ll miss the sight of him barging past the border of the coach’s box on the sideline and wandering well past midcourt to exhort his team in the middle of games. I’ll miss the stressful tic he had of craning his neck as if his collar was too tight. I’ll miss the footnotes and sidebars wedged into his spoken sentences that left pronouns and prepositions totally up for grabs. I’ll miss the way he always sought eye contact when he was telling you something. I’ll miss the terse little laugh that, depending upon context, had about 15 different meanings.
I’ll miss the tales of his days in the minor league Continental Basketball Association, anecdotes that seemed two parts MacGyver to one part Bad News Bears, in the way he’d be having to stitch together bus rides, laundry, and constant player movement with ingenuity and baling wire.”
Gorgeous stuff from Britt, full of little anecdotes, personal lamentations, and details on how Flip helped his love of the game grow throughout the years.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Saunders was even going to get a chance to demonstrate that his extensive playbook — long on mid-range jumpers, not so long on 3-balls — could work or sufficiently be revised for the current, arc-crazed NBA. Even a temporary setback to battle cancer, which is what this was purported to be, wasn’t going to derail this plan.
“We’re not in a situation where we’re looking to sign players,” Flip told me in August, the same day he and the Wolves announced his illness. “What we do now, we’ve got our players, we’ve got our game plan pretty set for what we’re going to go ahead for next year. We’re going to keep on working along those lines.”
Steve was the Star Tribune’s dedicated Wolves beat writer from 1994 through 2007 – there is no one more qualified to share stories from Flip’s early days as the head coach of the Timberwolves. Aschburner’s notes on Saunders’ favorite sayings are particularly insightful and entertaining.
Michael Lee, Yahoo! Sports
When Saunders told me he would be fine two months ago, I believed him, because it took me back to a conversation we shared shortly before he started his first season with the Washington Wizards six years ago. Saunders revealed the mantra he relied upon his entire life – the one that helped him start on the varsity team at Cuyahoga Heights High School despite being a 5-foot-2 freshman and emerge as the pint-sized leader of a University of Minnesota basketball team that featured future NBA champions Kevin McHale and Mychal Thompson: “Don’t listen to what people say because they don’t understand the will that you have.”
I read reports and heard from Saunders’ former colleagues that his condition was getting worse but I remembered that text, I remembered that quote, and kept waiting for the upward turn that never came.”
It isn’t quite as flowery as the rest, but Lee, who was the Wizards’ beat writer for the Washington Post during Flip’s time as Washington’s coach, clearly had great reverence for the man.
THE OLD TIMERS
Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune
“He could walk into any room and get a conversation going,” said Jon Roe, the Star Tribune’s beat reporter when Saunders played for the Gophers. “He had that personality, from the time he came here as an 18-year-old. It’s an amazing story, a kid from the most modest of backgrounds, becoming a part owner and president of an NBA team.”
Sid Hartman, Star Tribune
Jim Dutcher, who coached Saunders with the Gophers and then had him as an assistant coach for five years, talked about Saunders as a player.
“He was the one guy we felt we could not play without,” Dutcher said. “He ran the team. In high school, Flip averaged 32 points per game. But when he was running the point for us, he just got everyone else involved. He didn’t shoot that much. He just ran the team. But he led us in assists, he led us in free-throw percentage. So even though we had three No. 1 draft choices, Flip was our most valuable player.”
Two elder statesmen of Minnesota media mine their sources for terrific tales of college-age Flip, who led one of the greatest teams in Gopher history.
Dan Barreiro, KFAN
A couple Thanksgivings ago, out of nowhere, he texted this: “Dan: Happy Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for — family, friends and health. Enjoy the day with your sisters and family. I value the friendship we have. Flip”
I come from the school of journalism that says you cannot be friends with those you attempt to cover and analyze. I’ve tried hard to stick to it, but that line became blurred with Flip, and looking back on it, I don’t think he gave me any choice. He was just too damned generous.”
Heartfelt, personal, poignant. A splendid remembrance of Flip by one of his closest friends (and occasional sparring partner) in the Twin Cities market.
Mike McCollow, as told to John Walters of Newsweek
He called me a year and a half ago during the NBA All-Star Weekend. It was on Saturday, as the different skills competitions were airing on TV. “Mike, can you believe this?” he asked me. “All of those drills we used to make our campers do, the NBA is devoting an entire night to it. We should’ve copyrighted this a long time ago.”
I owe so much to Flip, in and out of basketball. There are feelings of sadness and guilt, the latter because I never really got to say goodbye. Or to thank him.
Full of personal photographs and stories you won’t hear anywhere else, this exclusive with a former pupil and assistant of Flip’s is a must-read.
Tom Izzo, special to the Star Tribune
He was competitive but compassionate. And very innovative — innovative in his thinking. He wasn’t afraid to try things. The analytical things — which have become new and modern — Flip was talking about it six, seven years ago. Every new play he could come up with, he sold it. Every new gadget that came out, he bought it.”
THE KIDS WHO GREW UP WITH COACH FLIP
Zach Bennett, Hardwood Paroxysm
To the hundreds of thousands, like me, born around the time the Timberwolves were inaugurated into the NBA (1985-1996), Saunders was our coach. Not only was he our coach because Saunders was at the helm when the Kevin Garnett put the Timberwolves on the map, either.
Saunders was our coach because of the things he did for the Minnesota basketball community.
Saunders was our coach because of the countless youth clinics he orchestrated throughout the Twin Cities, where I learned to dribble, pass, and shoot a basketball.”
The first bit of youth perspective comes from Zach, who delivers a heavy dose of Flip’s impact on basketball in the state.
Lindsey M. Young, Canis Hoopus
After a game last year, I shuffled toward the parking ramp along with a congested crowd murmuring disappointments about the loss. Above the buzz, I heard a woman excitedly yell, “Flip Nelson! That’s Flip Nelson!” as the coach slipped through the admin doors and into the chaos. I remember laughing, completely confused by this woman having no idea she was calling him by an incorrect name, and frankly feeling embarrassed for her.
Flip, who I’m sure had hoped to make a quiet exit, smiled and waved at both the woman and her friend while thanking them for coming to the game.
That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Key Dae, Canis Hoopus
I’ve gotten on Flip’s case a lot over the years. There’s no question about that. But it was always about basketball; never about the man.
Flip the human being was awesome. A mild-mannered, affable, next door neighbor type of guy who embodied the stereotype of Minnesota Nice while also being ‘the other guy’ who defined Minnesota basketball for the past 20 years.
AND FINALLY, THE A WOLF AMONG WOLVES CREW REMEMBERS FLIP