'Forever in my heart': Flip Saunders' death mourned by players and colleagues

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Flip Saunders, a mainstay of Minnesota basketball at the college and professional levels for decades, has died of complications from Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 60 years old.

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced Saunders' death Sunday afternoon. Saunders had been serving as the team's head coach and president, but stepped away from those duties last month due to complications from his cancer treatment.

Over the summer the Wolves announced that Saunders was battling Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. At the time the team and Saunders called it "highly treatable."

In September, however, complications forced him to step aside. On Friday night, Wolves owner Glen Taylor said Saunders wouldn't return to the team this year.

The Timberwolves canceled practice Sunday and will release more information later, Timberwolves PR said on Twitter.

Kevin Garnett, who as a teenager was drafted from high school into the NBA by Saunders and the Wolves management at the time, posted this on his Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/kevingarnett/photos/a.933219856725855.1073741825.243754359005745/933219176725923/?type=3

"Flip's untimely passing has left a gaping hole in the fabric of our league," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver 

" target="_blank">in a statement. "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."

Saunders first coached the Wolves from 1995-2005, and is the winningest coach in franchise history. He is the only coach to lead the Timberwolves to the playoffs.

Saunders returned to the Timberwolves in 2013 as the team's president of basketball operations and returned to the sideline last year.

Players have taken to social media to share messages:

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In addition to his 11 seasons with the Wolves, Saunders coached at Detroit and Washington as well. In 17 seasons, he had a career coaching record of 654-592.

Saunders was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and played basketball for the University of Minnesota from 1974-1977 with other greats like Kevin McHale. According to GopherSports.com, Saunders scored 842 points, 365 rebounds and 256 assists in his four-year career.

Saunders also spent time on the Gophers bench as an assistant coach from 1981-1986.

He is survived by wife, Debbie, daughters Mindy, Rachel and Kimberly, and son Ryan, who is an assistant coach with the Wolves.

Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin, a Minnesota native, wrote this column in 2006 about his first interactions with Flip as a kid who lived in his neighborhood.

Reaction to Saunders' death

Condolences and remembrances have been pouring in from sports figures and many others across Minnesota and the nation.

A writer at USA Today, Sam Amick, noted that Saunders was known to be a friendly, decent man who treated everyone with respect. Many others echoed those same sentiments.

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