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Following Flip Saunders’ Lead to Build a Culture of ‘WE’

By Mary Marczak, Director of Urban Family Development and Evaluation 

There was a universal outpouring of love and support after part-owner and head coach of Minnesota Timberwolves Flip Saunders died at age 60 while fighting Hodgkin lymphoma. A moving video tribute was shown Monday, November 2, before the Timberwolves home opener at Target Center: Watch the video tribute from Target Center.

As an avid sports fan, I follow sports news, watch ESPN, and listen to sports talk on the radio. So for over a week, I listened to Flip’s players, his former players, NBA analysts, sports writers, colleagues, and competitors talk about him. By all accounts, what stood out about Flip was how he treated everyone with kindness, no matter whether you were on his team or a competitor’s team. He was a genuinely nice guy — a rare specimen in the competitive world of pro sports. People discussed how he showed the same respect and kindness to his superstar player like Kevin Garnett, or a career bench player, or the worker who washes the towels in the locker room.

Photo credit: MN Timberwolves
Current Timberwolves players received permission from the NBA to wear a different warm-up shirt for 30 days — one that bears the initials WE. “WE” represents the "We over Me" mantra that Flip instilled in his players heading into the current season. He knew the Timberwolves were a young team and wanted to teach new NBA players the importance of valuing team achievement over individual statistics, as well as of being the best ambassador possible of the game they all love.

During my short tenure as the director of Urban Family Development and Evaluation, I’ve had a chance to connect with many staff members across all roles and program areas. A positive cross-cutting theme is individuals’ passion for Extension’s mission and all the amazing things that are happening across the state on behalf of under-resourced families, justice, and equity. Another, somewhat discouraging cross-cutting theme is individuals’ hurt over real and perceived, conscious and unconscious slights, digs, and marginalization that come with an “us versus them” mentality. It appears no one is immune: “Us versus them” narratives cut across programs, roles, positions, geographies, age, and tenure in Extension.

Flip Saunders believed that a WE narrative could be built even within the NBA’s big-money context, with superstar egos, in a hyper-competitive environment. He showed that change had to start with himself, then with his team, then with his organization, and so on. I have no doubt that a strong culture of “WE” can be developed within Center for Family Development, and I hope we can do it together.
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