Flip Saunders, one of the most respected and recognizable NBA coaches of the last two decades, died of cancer Sunday at the age of 60.
Saunders, who spent the bulk of his NBA career with the Timberwolves, announced in August that he was being treated for Hodgkin lymphoma. Although his condition was considered treatable, Saunders was hospitalized in September, and it was announced Friday that the Minnesota head coach and president of basketball operations would miss the entire 2015-16 season.
By Sunday, he was gone.
CBS Sports Network basketball analyst Wally Szczerbiak, who played for Saunders, dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Monday morning to express his condolences.
“Just shocked,” Szczerbiak said on Tiki and Tierney. “I remember when the news first hit that he did have cancer, the doctors were very positive on the prognosis. Then around the basketball world, people said he made a turn for the worse in the past month. For him to pass yesterday was just a shock to a lot of people. He was just such a great guy.”
Szczerbiak, like many former players, will remember Saunders for more than the X’s and O’s.
“I remember him first and foremost as a great dad, a great husband – just a great person,” Szczerbiak said. “Other than being a great coach and helping groom my career, he had all his priorities intact as a man. That’s what I really feel for him. My prayers and condolences are obviously with Debbie, his wife, and his family, his four kids. He was a great guy, a great dad, and he’s going to be missed most by them but also by the whole basketball community.”
Saunders, who also coached the Wizards and Pistons, was 654-592 in 17 seasons as an NBA coach.
“He was a great offensive mind,” Szczerbiak said. “He really knew the game offensively. He was a great scorer as a guy growing up in Cleveland. He was a very good basketball player. But I just think the way he treated all of his players (made him a great coach). He treated all of them (as men). I remember he always said to us, ‘I’m never going to say anything bad about you guys in the media. After a game, if we lose by 40, it’s going to all be on me. It’s not going to be on you guys.’ That’s one thing he really stuck to. Never aired anything out in the media, always stood by the side of his players – he was a very loyal coach. He was a players’ coach. He was a guy that wanted to get to know each individual guy on his team.”
Saunders, along with Kevin McHale, drafted Szczerbiak with the sixth overall pick in 1999. Szczerbiak played for Saunders from 1999-2005 and was an All-Star in 2002.
“They helped groom my career and the prime of my career,” Szczerbiak said. “I got to be an All-Star and make the playoffs and accomplish great things with that franchise. I’m very thankful for that. I owe a lot to (Saunders). It’s just a huge loss. He’s a guy I’ll never forget because he did so much for me.”