Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine's performance in the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest was spectacular. It might have been the best ever. As amazing as his dunks were, however, they were outdone by a heartwarming message from LaVine after the competition was all said and done.
Flip Saunders, LaVine's former Wolves coach, tragically passed away on October 25, 2015, just days before Minnesota's season began. His death rocked the basketball community and hit LaVine especially hard. Saunders was a huge part of LaVine's life and early growth as an NBA player -- something the two-time dunk champion noted on Saturday night in dedicating his win to the late Saunders:
I dedicate this dunk contest and the trophy to my late coach, Flip Saunders and the Saunders family. He's the one that always believed in me and drafted me! We all loved Flip and his memory will live on forever! #loveyacoach #2016dunkchamp
A photo posted by Zach LaVine (@zachlavine8) on
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Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma this past summer. Even though his time with LaVine was shorter than it should have been, it didn't take long for Saunders made his mark with the young guard. LaVine shared one particular tale of Saunders' charm and humor with FOX Sports earlier this season that sticks out. After the Wolves drafted LaVine, he and Saunders went to dinner, where the GM flashed his skills:
"It was really, really cool to see somebody have that confidence in me," LaVine said, as a wave of emotion took over his face. "I had confidence in myself, but seeing somebody else who had the confidence ... From there we sat down and ate dinner and he did a couple magic tricks. It was just an awesome day."
LaVine said one of Saunders' magic tricks was pulling a Wolves-branded coin from behind LaVine's ear, which he told LaVine to keep. LaVine still has the coin in a drawer at his house and says it's his memento to remember Saunders by.
"He said, 'If I walk up to you any time and you have that coin on you, I'll give you some money or something,'" LaVine said.
It's classic Saunders -- a coach who was the ultimate dad.