A Night For Flip

by Kyle Ratke

Digital Content Manager


There was a game on Thursday night at the Target Center.

But the night was much bigger than that. It was about a man who changed the culture of Minnesota basketball.

The Timberwolves honored Flip Saunders prior to the game, placing Flip’s spot overlooking the Wolves forever.

Former Timberwolves broadcaster and current TNT broadcaster Kevin Harlan was the perfect voice to narrate the event. The Saunders family, along with Glen and Becky Taylor, were to Harlan’s right. And to his left were former students of Saunders: Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Chauncey Billups, Gary Trent, Mark Madsen, Troy Hudson and John Thomas.

It was a moment that was well-deserved, obviously. But it felt odd with Flip missing. His energy was in the building. It felt like Flip was there. Seeing his son and Timberwolves assistant coach, Ryan, laugh at light-hearted jokes about his dad. You could see Flip.

Watching the crowd agree overwhelmingly when Karl-Anthony declared, “Flip is Minnesota basketball!”

It’s true. When you think Minnesota basketball, you think Flip Saunders.

If you were at the game, it’s one you’ll never forget.

Flip was many things. One of the best coaches to coach. A fighter. A student of the game. A want-to-be magician. But more importantly, he was a father. A son. A husband. And no matter where you are from, he felt like a friend, even if you never met him. One that would say ‘hello’ or ask how your day is going. It wasn’t to be nice. Flip actually cared.

Our John Focke shared a story in his latest podcast about Flip asking him about his long-distance runs. Why did he do them? When did he start? How long of runs did he go on?

After re-joining the Wolves back in 2013, Saunders made a trip to the Minnesota State Fair for a mini media tour. He returned to the Target Center offices with a bucket of mini donuts. The basketball operations department was just a hallway down from the business side. Saunders went up and down the aisles handing out mini donuts to the staff before running out.

These are stories you can’t make up and there are so many more. Flip was one of a kind.

His accolades speak volumes on how talented of a coach he was. He won 427 games, made the playoffs 11 times, and advanced to one Western Conference Finals and three Eastern Conference Finals.

But from everything we heard on Thursday night, it was about Flip the person that makes his absence from the Target Center hallways so tough to swallow. He always had a smile and he absolutely loved his people.

The Timberwolves family will forever be grateful to have had Flip. But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss him.

Quotes From The Tribute

Debbie Saunders

“For those of you that know me at all, you know that I always have something to say. And I’m never at a loss for words. I am at this moment, at a loss for words. Thank you all so much for coming. The last two years, the family has had to be brave. Some days are better than others. One thing that was really clear to all of us was that we could not do this without your love and support and your kindness. The Target Center has always felt like home to us and it still does. Flip loved it . . . Flip was passionate about Minnesota.”

Sam Cassell

“The thing that I’ll never forget about Flip was how demanding he was about playing basketball the right way. He preached it. These guys on my right understand it. He always expressed playing the right way. A couple years later, I become a coach for him and he drove me and his son crazy at times.”

Chauncey Billups

“He believed in me and he gave me an opportunity. So much so that when I left here and went to Detroit, I begged Joe Dumars to bring him to Detroit because I loved him so much.”

You can watch the full Flip Tribute below.