Flip Saunders loved to talk basketball. Absolutely loved it.
Didn’t matter the occasion, whether it was on or off the record, at morning, noon or night. Flip was at his best talking basketball.
The man had a million basketball stories, usually involving one of his million friends, former teammates or coaches.
His laugh would accentuate his raspy voice as he recalled something zany from his days in the CBA or Dinkytown.
He’d seen a lot in his basketball career, both as a player and coach, and he stockpiled those memories and kept them at the ready for whenever a conversation veered a certain direction.
In my dealings with Flip over the years, that’s the thing that always stood out, just how much he truly loved the game and loved talking about it.
Conversations weren’t always about strategy and Xs and Os, but when they were, he taught reporters covering the beat a great deal about the game. He possessed a wealth of basketball knowledge.
Basketball gave Flip a college education and a comfortable life, and he never seemed to take the game for granted. He always showed a healthy appreciation and respect for what basketball afforded him.
The sadness of Saunders’ death at age 60 is reflected in the outpouring of testimonials from around the entire sports world, not just in basketball.
It’s as if everyone knew Flip and admired Flip and appreciated the impact he had on his sport and basketball in this metropolis, in particular.
Media members in town had a special appreciation for Saunders because he was personable, willing to share insight and was generally candid in his comments. Mostly, he was just a good guy.
Two conversations I shared with Flip in the past few years come to mind because they reflect his enthusiasm for all things basketball.
In a 2014 story, I re-visited the unique pregame warmup routine that former Gophers coach Bill Musselman brought to Williams Arena in the early 1970s.
As a point guard and gifted ball handler, Saunders was responsible for conducting the Harlem Globetrotter act. He loved every aspect of it because he had flair to his game and was a showman at heart.
Saunders spent 30 minutes post-practice one day re-telling all the choreographed moves and stunts the Gophers performed, and the electric atmosphere it created inside the Barn.
His face lit up at the memories. He probably would have talked for three hours on the subject if I kept asking questions.
That was Flip.
So was a post-practice conversation we shared late last season. It was an off-the-record chat in which he raved about Andrew Wiggins and his potential and how the demands they placed on him as a rookie would pay big dividends in the future.
Flip sounded like a proud father and in a sense he was, because he also noted how much time his son, Ryan, spends with Wiggins every day watching video. As Flip talked, Ryan, a Wolves assistant coach, and Wiggins were seated courtside looking at an iPad, an impromptu video session.
Many people undoubtedly have similar memories as that. Flip holding court, talking basketball, doing what he does best, a man in his element.
This is a sad time for basketball fans. Saunders’ death leaves a hole in the Timberwolves organization and in our greater basketball community.
Flip grew up in Ohio but became a Minnesotan at heart. He was a proud Gopher and a proud coach. And through our grief, we’re also grateful for the enormous impact he made on this community.