Flip Saunders, the head coach and team president of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, died on Sunday at the age of 60.
When Saunders was first diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in June, the doctors considered it to be "treatable and curable" with medicine. After the disease worsened with complications in September, Saunders took a leave of absence from the team for hospitalization.
Timberwolves practice immediately halted so the players could mourn the loss of their great coach.
"We as an organization are devastated by his passing, and our hearts and prayers go out to (his wife) Debbie and the entire Saunders family as they endure this extraordinary loss," owner Glen Taylor said in a statement published by The New York Times.
Saunders accumulated over 650 wins in 17 NBA seasons. He is considered to be the best coach in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves. After becoming their coach in 1995, Saunders turned the franchise around by going to the playoffs nearly every season over the following decade. (He's still the only coach to have taken the Timberwolves to the playoffs.) He also took the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. He later coached the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards before finally returning to Minnesota in 2013.
Colleagues and players mourned his loss with different tributes.
But perhaps the best tribute came from Saunders’ greatest player, Kevin Garnett.
Saunders drafted Garnett during his first season as coach of the Timberwolves, in 1995. Garnett came straight out of high school when he was drafted. Saunders nurtured Garnett and was like a father figure to him. During the next decade, they achieved great success together. Garnett, who later played for the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, returned to the Timberwolves in February 2015 to reunite and finish his legendary career with Saunders.
After discovering that he lost his coach and friend on Sunday, Garnett left practice and walked to the garage to sit in Saunders' empty parking space.
Garnett posted this photo to Facebook with the caption “Forever in my heart…”
Garnett's moving tribute to Saunders has gone viral, with over 38,000 Facebook shares as of Monday.
(H/T: New York Post)