On a night when a banner honoring Flip Saunders was revealed, it was the little things, the tiny tributes, that kind of hit home.

Like Karl-Anthony Towns' shoes, airbrushed with a picture from his first news conference with Saunders after being taken with the first pick in the 2015 draft. Or the fact that so many of the players from his best team — Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Troy Hudson, Mark Madsen and Gary Trent — were there.

The Wolves played the Lakers, of course, at Target Center. But the night was Saunders', thanks to a roaring crowd, an assemblage of friends and family, a tribute to the man who spent 11 seasons coaching the team.

It was Flip Saunders Night, honoring the man who did so much for basketball in the state, a man lost to Hodgkins lymphoma two years ago.

In an on-court pregame presentation emceed by Kevin Harlan — in town to broadcast the nationally televised game — the banner was revealed and stories were told from a group that also included Saunders' family and his former college teammate Mychal Thompson.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor remembered hiring Saunders not long after getting a two-volume set of offense and defensive plays shortly after buying the team. Talking to the family, he said, "You'll always be a part of the Timberwolves family.''

Cassell, who barely made it because of travel difficulties, joked about the first time he met Saunders after being traded here, being given Saunders' heavy playbook.

"I want to express to the family what Flip meant to me,'' he said. "I traveled a long way to get here. Let's give it up for Flip one more time.''

Chauncey Billups thanked Saunders for believing in him, giving him a chance.

Debbie Saunders, who met her husband when both were at the University of Minnesota, admitted she might not have been able to go through this a year ago. She thanked the crowd after being given a standing ovation. Proceeds from the night — which included auctioning off shoes and game-worn jerseys worn by the players Thursday — benefited the Flip Saunders Legacy Fund. The total raised was $58,775.

"I think about him every day,'' she said. "Not just because of basketball, but because he was a good person, a good man. I'm so pleased and happy, from the bottom of my heart, the Timberwolves took the time to do this.''

And the banner now hanging in the north end of the arena?

"It looks great,'' Debbie Saunders said. "Amazing. It feels like it's hanging in his home.''

Speaking out

The tragic school shooting in South Florida drew responses from a couple of Wolves players.

"It's heartbreaking,'' said Jamal Crawford, who has school-aged children of his own. "I know it sounds crazy, but I would erase guns, period. I think the violence total would come down tremendously, obviously. So I would do that. But we have to look at these laws, what's going on. There's no way a kid should be able to get his hands on that type of weapon.''

Said Towns: "It's not a race thing, it's a human thing. It's an American thing. We have to find ways to keep kids safe at school. Not just kids, everybody. You can't go with your friends to a nightclub in Orlando? You can't go out and watch a concert in Las Vegas? This is a very rough time to be an American. We have to make some changes.''


Taking full advantage of the All Star break, the Wolves won't reassemble until Wednesday of next week. Minnesota returns to action Feb. 23 in Houston.