The NBA community and, more importantly, the Saunders family lost a good man on Sunday. Philip Daniel “Flip” Saunders, former Timberwolves, Pistons and Wizards head coach succumbed to Hodgkins lymphoma after a four month battle with the disease. It seemed like just yesterday the Timberwolves announced Flip’s diagnosis and as anyone who covered his teams may have expected, he was not going to go without a fight.
I am attacking this with the same passion I do everything in my life, knowing this is a serious issue, I also know that God has prepared me to fight this battle.
Late last week, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor announced that Flip would not be back to coach this year. When the news of Flip’s death surfaced on Twitter while I was watching the Redskins get pummeled by the Bucs (yes I know it didn’t end that way,) my honest to God first reaction was to think of his poor family and namely his son Ryan – who was nothing but the nicest assistant coach I’ve had the pleasure of covering in my years of doing it for Wizards Extreme and Hoop District.
Cancer had yet again stolen another good human being from the world.
Shortly after the announcement, tributes in the form of words and pictures spread like wildfire on social media – a testament to a man who did more than just draw up X’s and O’s on a whiteboard.
My father, a man of few words told me a long time ago, “the true success of a man is not in his own accomplishments, but what he has taught and empowered other people to accomplish.”
After reading through the thoughts of so many former players, coaching colleagues, team owners, and NBA officials it is easy to see why the world lost more than a coach yesterday.
Some may immediately want to look at a win-loss record and quantify what Saunders meant to the game of basketball, but the truer measure of his impact and legacy was evident in the words of those he touched around him throughout his many years around the game.
No this is unreal a dint n my heart for sure we hardly seen eye to eye n person because I was young and prideful but behind closed doors I would tell everyone he was one of my favorite coaches I’m so sad even mad I didn’t get the chance to tell him wat he really did for me 452/452 twist my fav plays will forever be drilled n my head my prayers go to your family I’m so sorry
A photo posted by Nick Young (@swaggyp1) on
My very first day on the job. Fresh off a 4-5 hour flight from a D-League road trip in Dakota , Coach Saunders along with the Wizards organization gave me my 1st NBA playing opportunity. I knew maybe 2 plays, but he didn’t hesitate for one second when he put me in the game. Always found a way to include me even after injury and not being 100%. Forever thankful. One of the best basketball minds I’ve ever been around. My deepest condolences to his family. Rip Coach Flip Saunders.
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
NBA has been blessed by your wonderful life, RIP Coach Flip. You will be deeply missed.
— Rick Mahorn (@badboyhorn44) October 25, 2015
Rest peacefully Coach Flip Saunders… My prayers are with your Family. #ripflip
— Chris Webber (@realchriswebber) October 25, 2015
Forever in my heart….
Posted by Kevin Garnett on Sunday, October 25, 2015
Again, anywhere you went around the Internet, the sentiment was the same. Great man, great teacher, great human being.
It honestly wasn’t until about a few hours after the announcement was made that the basketball aspect of things started racing back through my mind. Even at that point, it wasn’t about his record with the Wizards, or the 2009 NBA Draft, or the expectations of a team that were never lived up to, or the way he quietly, yet unceremoniously left DC, like so many others had before him.
Instead, my first basketball thought about Flip was a phrase he used to describe a recently drafted, young, wide-eyed 19 year old kid.
Point guards are not made, they are delivered from heaven, and I believe he was delivered from heaven.
The young man he spoke of is, of course, John Wall. Much the same way that Flip would speak and hold in reverence his opinion of another 19 year old kid (KG) he drafted 15 years before Wall entered the league, that heavenly-sent point guard has continued to make Saunders look like a fortune teller delivering on and off the court.
As you can read from Wall’s statement on the passing of Saunders, he wasn’t just a coach to him. He credits Flip with teaching him how to be a better man. To a young man who himself lost his own father to cancer, it must not be easy to again lose someone so close and instrumental to his character development, at such an integral time in his life like the start of his professional career.
At the time their two lives intersected, that young man he would go on to put his reputation on the line for was tasked with leading an organization fresh off an off-court scandal, and coming off losing seasons of epic proportions.
Many of you only got to know Philip Saunders from his direct effect on the teams he coached through box scores and standings. When the cameras were off, that’s the Flip I will remember. He was a kind, funny and straightforward, God-fearing man. He cared about his players, his assistants and the people he encountered every day. You could tell that from the fist pounds he’d give the ushers or from the fact that no person was ever too’little’ to stop and speak to, including this obscure blogger who consistently threw daggers at him in the form of posts and tweets regarding his teams performances.
While Flip may no longer roam the sidelines,his presence will forever live on through his family, the stories of the people who knew him, and the hundreds of young men he touched throughout his life as a coach. That means more than any win, loss or result of a game ever will.