Three days after losing their leader to cancer, the Minnesota Timberwolves made sure everyone knows Flip Saunders is still with them.
The Timberwolves unveiled a new shooting shirt for pregame warm-ups before their season-opening 112-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. The gray shirts have "WE" written in big, block letters, with "FLIP" written over the heart.
The "We over Me" concept is something Wolves general manager Milt Newton and Saunders discussed this summer and planned to instill as the mantra heading into the season. It was all about driving home to a young and impressionable core the importance of valuing team achievement over individual statistics.
The NBA granted the Wolves permission to wear the shirts for the first month of the season while they mourn Saunders, who died Sunday at age 60.
"It's one way to show tribute to him," Newton said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
The Lakers, who started in Minneapolis before moving to Los Angeles in 1960, made a gesture of their own, donning gray warm-up shirts with "FLIP" in gold and the old Minneapolis Lakers logo.
Newton first became familiar with the "We over Me" concept as a player at Kansas. Jayhawks assistant Jerry Green had a wood carving that could either read "WE" or be turned upside down to read "ME." Green would change the display depending on the level of unselfishness exhibited by the Jayhawks in the previous game.
It resonated with Newton, who has a similar carving in his Timberwolves office and one at his home.
"When him and I talked, we always talked about getting us some 'we' players," Newton said of his conversations with Saunders, who was the team's president of basketball operations, the coach and a minority owner. "There were times last year he came into my office and noticed it was turned to 'ME.' He said, 'Yeah, you got that right.'
"Then there were times he came in the room, and I would have it turned to 'WE.' And he said, 'Yeah, we played well last night. We shared the ball.'"
"I think it's really starting to trickle down," Newton said. "Sometimes players really don't understand that team concept. In high school, they're the guy. Sometimes it's not reiterated. For the most part, we've got a bunch of guys that are 'we' guys instead of being 'me' guys."
Just the way Flip wanted it.