The untimely death of Minnesota Timberwolves coach, president of basketball operations and part owner, Flip Saunders, has affected everyone in the NBA community. But perhaps no single player, coach or executive was closer to the man than the first star he ever coached, Kevin Garnett.
Garnett and Flip both made their NBA debuts — KG as a forward, Flip as a head coach — in the 1995-96 season. Their relationship grew from there.
Garnett had a no-trade clause in his contract with the Brooklyn Nets last season. He had to waive it before his trade to Minnesota was brought to completion. That’s exactly what he did, primarily because Flip was back in charge.
So when word came out that Flip had passed away on Sunday, KG posted this pic to his Facebook page showing him sitting in Flip’s empty parking space with the caption, “Forever in my heart….”
Since seeing the post, we haven’t been able to hold back the tears.
In an interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe in July of this year, Flip Saunders answered a few questions about KG that clearly show a bond with his favorite player that goes well beyond the court.
Grantland: One of the best stories going through the grapevine in Vegas was that at some practice, KG ripped into Pek for not getting back on defense — hit him with “motherfucker” and everything. And no one had ever seen anyone talk to Pek like that, because he’s Pek and he’s scary. Do you remember that?
Flip Saunders: That happened during the season, in his very first practice with us. People were talking about it in Vegas, because KG came out and did a shootaround with us there, and people couldn’t believe how energetic he was. And we said, “Well, you should have seen him when he ‘motherfucked’ Pek because he didn’t get back on defense during a dummy drill.” No one had ever seen that with Pek.
That’s KG. He always said that living up to his contract meant giving everything he had, in practices and games. He expects that from everyone on the team. A guy like Pek has never been pushed.
Grantland: How did Pek react?
Flip Saunders: He put his damn head down and started running fast. That’s the thing about KG: He’s running back faster than anyone. If a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest power forwards ever, is doing that at 38, how can you not do it?
And here’s the thing: KG can still play.
Grantland: Is KG going to start?
Flip Saunders: He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.