Yesterday morning Minnesota media announced the untimely death of Flip Saunders, one of Minnesota’s most beloved public figures.
Cheered long ago as the diminutive starting point guard of the University of Minnesota Gophers basketball team, Flip worked his way through the ranks of the CBA to become a successful NBA Head Coach with Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington before returning “home” to Minnesota as both President and Head Coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There is a deep sadness over his loss. At 60 years old, he was looking forward to the fruits of his labor, the makings of a future world championship team developed by Flip’s extraordinary draft picks, trades, and the return to Minnesota of Kevin Garnett, the NBA star who credits Flip with his development when Kevin was fresh out of high school.
Like Garnett himself, Flip Saunders was not a native Minnesotan. But he, and Garnett, came to see this as home, as do many out-of-state transplants once they taste the beauty and culture of Minnesota.
Today it’s that culture that should be lifted up along with the love for Flip: the respectful silence kept by the media in response to the Saunders family request for privacy during the long hospitalization that began in early September.
Readers and sports pundits who feed on sensationalism might have misinterpreted the absence of detailed coverage as meaning the sports writers and the media didn’t give a flip about Flip. It’s rare that the need for privacy is honored, even when a family requests it.
Team owner Glenn Taylor and the Minnesota Timberwolves were a class act from the first announcement of his diagnosis and encouraging prognosis to the heartbreak of his long hospitalization and death.
Flip’s illness and death were handled with the rare discretion that represents the very best of Minnesota Nice. Minnesotans don’t like prying into each others’ business unless invited, and quiet respectfulness is a Scandinavian characteristic that held back the pens of sports writers and voyeurs until there was something to share.
The StarTribune headline, quoting the NBA Commissioner, reads “Flip Saunders ‘leaves gaping hole in the fabric of the NBA”. In the fabric of NBA culture of bigger-than-life heroes, Flip Saunders brought something smaller, more private, and all too rare.