With Flip Saunders passing away from cancer on Sunday, countless people within the basketball community have taken time this week to pay respects to one of the most successful NBA coaches of his generation.
One of those people was Celtics voice Sean Grande, who spent three years as the television voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves when Saunders was head coach.
Grande was asked what impressed him the most about Saunders.
“Enthusiasm,” Grande said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence, “and sort of a curiosity and love of the game and the game of the NBA. He was a different kind of cat. He really was. The funny thing about him – and no one’s ever accused me of being the biggest social butterfly in history – yet he was one of the most socially awkward people you were ever going to come across. (He was) one of those people who never would have been a head coach in the NBA because of the way you sort of have to work the media and people know your name and (you) market yourself. He was one of those guys who got there the only way it was going to happen – because of his longtime relationship with Kevin McHale and (because) he had success in the CBA.
“But when he got (to the NBA, he) proved that maybe we should be looking at it a different way for guys who can coach,” Grande continued, “and obviously he had so much success. And you know this very well: We live in cynical times. Even here in sports – where most of us come to escape how cynical the real world is – this has become a harsher, meaner place. And Flip, he never succumbed to that. And being an NBA head coach is pretty difficult and he somehow survived a lot of cynicism and always had that curious smile on his face.”
Grande was most impressed by Saunders’ “humility and honesty” as an NBA coach, even as he coached notoriously hard-to-control players such as Rasheed Wallace. There was a delicate skill and balance involved there, and Saunders always struck it.
After getting fired by the Wizards in 2012, Saunders served as a consultant for the Celtics and helped Boston push the Miami Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Grande said he probably spent more time with Saunders in those three months than he spent with him in the three years that he worked in Minnesota.
“I was grateful for it always,” Grande said, “but I’m especially grateful for it today.”