MINNEAPOLIS — Flip Saunders, who rose from the backwaters of basketball’s minor leagues to become one of the most powerful men in the NBA as coach, team president and part owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, died Sunday, the team said. He was 60.
Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in June and doctors called it “treatable and curable.” But he took a leave of absence from the team in September after complications arose during his treatment, which included chemotherapy. He had been hospitalized for more than a month.
“Flip was a symbol of strength, compassion, and dignity for our organization,” owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “He was a shining example of what a true leader should be, defined by his integrity and kindness to all he encountered.
Sam Mitchell has been named interim head coach and GM Milt Newton is heading the team’s personnel department.
Saunders went 654-592 in 17 NBA seasons with the Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. But his best days came in Minnesota, where he nurtured Kevin Garnett from a teenager who jumped straight from high school to the NBA in 1995 and helped turn the woeful Wolves into a perennial playoff team.
The Timberwolves had started to practice on Sunday when Newton got word from Taylor of Saunders’ death. Practice was halted and a devastated Garnett left the floor, walked to the parking garage at the practice facility and sat down in the spot marked for Saunders.