In August, the Timberwolves announced Saunders had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In September, he was admitted to the hospital after experiencing complications from chemotherapy treatment. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported earlier this month Saunders’s health had taken a downturn.
“The NBA family is mourning today over the tragic loss of our friend and colleague, Flip Saunders,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “With more than 40 years around the game, 20 of them in the NBA, Flip’s untimely passing has left a gaping hole in the fabric of our league. Flip was a beloved figure around the NBA, nowhere more so than in Minnesota, demonstrating a genuine and consistent passion for his players, his team and the game. On behalf of the NBA, we offer our most sincere condolences to Flip’s wife, Debbie, their four children and the entire Minnesota Timberwolves organization.”
Saunders began a second coaching stint with the Timberwolves in June 2014, one year after becoming president of basketball operations. Saunders originally coached Minnesota from ’95–05.
The Cleveland native also coached the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons. Saunders had a career mark of 654–594, with a 47–51 record in the playoffs. Saunders reached three conference finals with the Pistons, and led the Wolves to multiple 50-win seasons during his first stint with the team.
“Flip was a symbol of strength, compassion, and dignity for our organization. He was a shining example of what a true leader should be, defined by his integrity and kindness to all he encountered,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “Today is not a day to reflect on Flip’s accomplishments in basketball or what he brought to us as an organization on the court, but rather to indicate what he meant to us as a co-worker, friend, member of the community and the basketball world at large.”
Saunders is survived by his wife Debbie and their four children.
- Rohan Nadkarni