That depends on your perspective — and probably what you saw with your own eyes.
Fans watching the ESPN’s popular awards show — traditionally shown on the Wednesday following the MLB All-Star Game, one of the slowest sports days of the year — noted en masse on Twitter and other outlets last night that during the “in memoriam” portion of the show there was a notable absence.
The segment, which honored notable sports figures who have died in the past year, showed 30 different people — starting with Pat Summitt and ending with Muhammad Ali. The montage included a song performed by Andra Day.
But it did not include Saunders — at least not for viewers at home. And then emotions ranging from confusion to outrage began.
Very strange, ESPN left off Flip Saunders on the ESPY’s tribute video. How is that possible??
— GopherHole.com (@GopherHole) July 14, 2016
hey @espn YOU FORGOT FLIP SAUNDERS IN THE TRIBUTE MONTAGE. you’re a joke. congrats
— Zac Roark (@Zac_roark) July 14, 2016
An ESPN spokesperson, however, told me the tribute did include Saunders and said the former Wolves coach and executive — who also worked for a time at ESPN — drew some of the loudest cheers from those in attendance at the show.
While the spokesperson wouldn’t speculate as to why the portion with Saunders — whose death in October brought an outpouring of grief and tributes from around the country — wasn’t shown on TV, I watched the replay of the ESPYs and noted there were two prominent gaps where the camera focused on Day for several seconds instead of the slide show. You can watch the video here. It’s likely that the part with Saunders (and perhaps other sports figures as well) was playing in the background while the camera was on Day.
Even if it was just a matter of bad timing, though, it still meant anyone who wasn’t in attendance didn’t get to see Saunders and was left with the impression that he was forgotten. When I tweeted ESPN’s explanation this morning, it didn’t do much for a lot of people.
@RandBall sorry excuse by ESPN for not showing Saunders during in memoriam segment. Terrible production team!
— Brent Palm (@bpinminne) July 14, 2016
It was part of a mixed bag night for those with Minnesota connections. Karl-Anthony Towns of the Wolves was nominated in the “Best Breakthrough Athlete” category but lost to Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta. Meanwhile, the Lynx’s Maya Moore won “Best WNBA Player” while Belle Plaine’s Ryan Dungey took home “Best Male Action Sports Athlete” honors, but neither award was given significant time on the show.