At the end of Wizards practice Friday, the players placed their hands in a circle and broke with the word, "Family!" That word probably had more meaning for the team as their leader was dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Coach Flip Saunders's 90-year-old mother, Kay, passed earlier in the morning after dealing with failing health for several months. Saunders left the team Tuesday, and missed Wednesday's loss against Golden State, to be with his mother in suburban Cleveland. But he flew back to Washington after visiting with her this morning. He received word that she had died the moment that he landed.
"You get there and you think, 'What are you going to do?' " Saunders said of his initial reaction to the news.
He went to work and ran a full practice.
"With the players, they are like family," he said. "It's a good outlet. That's part of the situation, being around the team and being with the team, as much as anything, that helps anyone deal with any situation."
Saunders said he plans to coach against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, but will leave the team afterward to attend the wake and the funeral. His father, Walter, encouraged him to keep coaching.
"My dad said, when I talked to him this morning, 'She would want you to coach, especially because you're going against Minnesota,' " said Saunders, who led the Timberwolves for nearly nine years and keeps an offseason home in Minneapolis.
Assistant Randy Wittman will coach the team against Detroit on Sunday, so that Saunders can spend a few days in Cleveland to attend the funeral and the wake. Kay Saunders was taken off life support earlier in the week, but lived for another three days.
"They called her the Miracle Grandma at the hospital," Saunders said with a smile, "but she was an unbelievable fan of the NBA. If I wanted to know more about the NBA, I called her, because she watched all day. She watched NBATV. She knew everything that was going on."