Flip Saunders, the longtime NBA coach who won more than 650 games in nearly two decades and was trying to rebuild the Minnesota Timberwolves as team president, coach and part owner, died Sunday, the team said. He was 60.
Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in June and doctors called it "treatable and curable," when the Timberwolves made the diagnosis public in August. But he took a leave of absence from the team in September after complications arose during his treatment, which included chemotherapy.
This week, owner Glen Taylor announced Saunders would not be back this season and asked team employees to give Saunders time to heal. The Timberwolves open the season Wednesday.
He landed in the NBA in 1995, when he wrote a letter to new owner Glen Taylor asking for a job.
He would carry around autographed cards of himself to hand out to fans, and playfully give them to media members as well with a mischievous grin on his face.
Gregarious and outgoing, he endeared himself to a Twin Cities community that viewed him as a hometown boy done good, with his Gophers roots overshadowing his Cleveland upbringing. And Flip loved Minnesota right back. When he returned to the organization after 10 years away, he recounted a story about working for ESPN and being asked why he still lived in Minnesota so long after he was fired.
"And I'd say 'Well, you don't really understand unless you're from Minnesota. You really don't get it. Even when it snows on May 3rd you really don't get it,'" Saunders said. "And the loyalty and the passion that the people have here is what always drives me back."