HOUSTON – Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders had a relationship full of twists and turns. They were teammates and best friends at the University of Minnesota. McHale was the team vice president of basketball operations when Saunders was hired to coach the Timberwolves in 1995. But it was also McHale who fired Saunders in 2005, creating a rift between the onetime best friends.
McHale on Monday shared his memories with Houston media of Saunders, who died Sunday from complications associated with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Rockets coach recalled his recruiting visit, when he “never saw the campus” because Saunders, his team host for the visit, took him fishing.
“We went fishing and drank beer,” McHale said. “I said, ‘I think I’m going to like school.’ ... We’ve done a lot of stuff together through the years. We worked together for a lot of years, went fishing, did a lot of stuff together. Just a sad, sad day. Way too young.”
On their basketball bond, McHale said: “Our lives were intertwined through basketball from the day I met him, when I was a 18-year-old kid, all the way up to this summer when I ran into him. Basketball was our fabric and he loved basketball. He had an unbelievable passion for basketball and went through the CBA. Came up the hard way.
“[He] coached right out of college and coached Golden Valley Lutheran College in the Twin Cities area and we were all over there helping him coach and watching his teams. He’d run the scores up and the score would be 140-30 and I’d be like, ‘Flip you can’t just run up the score like that.’ But he loved to let his guys go and we had a lot of fun. He had a passion for basketball and he was a good man and I’m going to miss him a lot.”
The Houston Chronicle contributed to this report.