He 'loved Minnesota right back': Touching tributes to Flip Saunders

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Minnesota loved Flip Saunders, and this quote, dug up by Jon Krawczynski of the AP from Flip's return to Minnesota after a decade away in 2013, sums up just how much Minnesota meant to Flip.

''And I'd say 'Well, you don't really understand unless you're from Minnesota. You really don't get it. Even when it snows on May 3 you really don't get it.' And the loyalty and the passion that the people have here is what always drives me back.''

Flip "loved Minnesota right back," Krawczynski sums up.

Since Saunders' death was announced Sunday, people who knew him – personally, professionally, and from afar – have penned tributes about the man they knew; a coach, a father, a husband, a colleague, and often a friend.

Here are some of those tributes.

An ode to a friend

KFAN radio host Dan Barreiro, who had Saunders on his show weekly for "Friday Funkadelic," wrote a thoughtful ode to Saunders, closing his blog recalling the final text message he sent Saunders on Oct. 1.

"I didn’t know if he would ever read it, but I knew I had to send it: 'Wherever you are, I’m with you tonight. More than ever.'"

 Flip Saunders high fives Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Flip Saunders high fives Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

'To Flip, everyone was special'

Those were the words penned to paper by Saunders' good friend, Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo. The perennial Final Four-bound Big Ten coach remembered Saunders in a statement.

"Basketball and, more importantly, humanity lost a great man today, but Flip's positive impact on everyone's life that he touched will leave a lasting legacy – one which can inspire and drive us all."

Reusse: How he became 'Flip'

How'd he get that nickname? Here's the story on Philip "Flip" Saunders, courtesy of Patrick Reusse in the Star Tribune.

"The nickname came from his beloved mother, Kay, who heard customers in a hair salon talking about a “flip” and figured that it was a nickname to fit her energetic, sports-loving son."

Saunders and the I-35 bridge collapse

Saunders was about 20 yards from I-35 bridge when it collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007. "It sounded like a bomb went off," Saunders said at the time, according to ESPN. Krista Jahnke, former Pistons beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, recalled her phone call with Saunders after that horrifying event.

"Saunders was at the scene when it happened. He stopped and called 911 and later sounded shaken as he described the scene.

'It’s very sad,' he said. 'It’s hard to stomach.'

The basketball community feels much the same today."

 Flip Saunders answers questions at a news conference in 2001. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Flip Saunders answers questions at a news conference in 2001. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

A 'huge part' Hoiberg's life

Chicago Bulls first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg played for Saunders in Minnesota from 2003-05. He, along with every other coach in the NBA, will wear a lapel pin dedicated to Saunders this season. What Saunders meant to him, via ESPN:

"And that's the thing, you're riding home on a plane win or lose -- Flip was always upbeat. [He'd] talk to you, come back and see how you're feeling, especially during struggles. He was a fatherly figure, such a caring individual."

The best thing about covering Saunders...

"... was his inability to hold a grudge," wrote NBA.com's Steve Aschburner, who covered Saunders since his debut with the Timberwolves in 1995.

Aschburner added that Saunders "could not stay mad over some temporary, perceived dig. There was a sense, in good times and most tellingly in bad, that we all were pretty damn lucky to be making our livings at something into which many people poured their passions and their hard-earned cash."

Flip was 'one of us'

Jim Souhan admits he didn't know him that well, but it was clear that Saunders embodied Minnesota.

"Flip had become “one of us” in the best of ways. He loved the University of Minnesota. He loved the underrated and larger-than-you think basketball community. He loved living here and raising his family here. He wanted to bring an NBA championship here."

Billups owes success to Flip

Chauncey Billups, one of the great clutch players of the 2000s during his time with the Pistons, told ESPN that Flip turned his career around when he joined the Timberwolves in 2000.

"He forced me to learn how to play the game of basketball," Billups said. "I'm just so sad today. We lost a good one, man."

Marbury's message

Stephon Marbury didn't stay with Flip and Wolves for long, but Flip's impact on him resonates with Marbury to this day. His message on Instagram says it all.

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