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October 30, 2015

I was going to write about how disappointed I am in the University of Michigan fan base for their conduct after the heartbreaking loss to Michigan State. But then Sunday happened, and the world lost a great man. Phil “Flip” Saunders passed away after losing a battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of sixty. I’d always held something of a soft spot for the man, I must admit, though sometimes the Timberwolves’ lack of competitiveness of late irked me some.

He always seemed to be having fun, and he was such a great mentor for players inside and outside the organization. I’d already thought the NBA was missing out when he announced he would skip the season, but I was comforted when initial reports came back positive. He was, apparently, going to be okay. I didn’t follow it much after that, I just assumed that Saunders would just fight through it.

So Sunday hit me pretty badly. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for Ricky Rubio’s comments on the matter, either. “We lost our dad yesterday,” said Rubio.

Saunders was not just a coach. Saunders was a father, a mentor, and a friend to every single player on this team. For eight months a year, these Minnesota players do not often go home for very long. Rubio in particular stays even longer, being an international player. The team is their family. This is a team that overcame the departure of the team’s face, after three years of that face publicly complaining about not wanting to be in Minnesota.

This is a team whose face during these last two years has been a lanky guard often criticized for his lack of willingness to take the spotlight from others, and a coach that prioritized fun over running oneself into the dirt.

And it worked, to an extent. Go back and watch last year’s Timberwolves, and you see a team that cares. This team did not get blown out very often. Not like other teams like the Knicks, and other teams with a superstar or two. Competitive or not, this is a team that cared about each other.

Now take away the man that inspired that. Take away the man that brought 12 players in, and made them more competitive than teams with established superstars. All the while, he was able to spend time to raise his four kids during 20 years in the NBA. This as a man of amazing value.

That is why I feel for the Wolves. Imagine the people he raised and now left behind both on and off the court. Think about those people, and celebrate Flip’s life, as we mourn his death. So long, Coach. It was great having you.

Anthony Adams
Sports Columnist

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