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Why Denver Nuggets Coach Ryan Saunders Trusted God Amid Dad’s Cancer Diagnosis

Photo from Denver Nuggets’ Instagram

Why Denver Nuggets Coach Ryan Saunders Trusted God Amid Dad’s Cancer Diagnosis

By Movieguide® Contributor 

Ryan Saunders, assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets—the 2023 NBA champions—joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast to discuss how his father, Flip Saunder’s, death impacted his faith journey. 

“I am not a perfect Christian by any means, and I have a lot of things I need to improve on,” Saunders began. “But I also understand that I’ve come a long way in a lot of ways. I’m still a work in progress which I think that everybody is.” 

Once Saunders became a coach, he explained the change in his life spiritually. 

“I saw a change in how I approached difficult situations,” Saunders said. “Little did I know it was preparing me for one of my most difficult moments to date and that’s losing my father. I think it was all just a build up to that moment and to be there for those around me. My mother and three younger sisters, it’s a lot.” 

“But during that time as well, we never lost faith. I think that was something that was really, really important and really special because it showed that I was growing in my relationship, and we were growing in our relationship as Christians as a family,” he continued.  

Saunders added that God sustained him after he found out his father had cancer and then when he died.

“I’m not ashamed to say it…I remember there were times where I, you know, would ask…out loud…‘Where are you God?’” Saunders shared previously. “But that really strengthened me and that strengthened my relationship with Christ.”

After his father died in 2015, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “The NBA family is mourning today over the tragic loss of our friend and colleague, Flip Saunders. Flip’s untimely passing has left a gaping hole in the fabric of our league.” 

“Flip was a beloved figure around the NBA, nowhere more so than in Minnesota, demonstrating a genuine and consistent passion for his players, his team and the game. On behalf of the NBA, we offer our most sincere condolences to Flip’s wife, Debbie, their four children and the entire Minnesota Timberwolves organization,” the statement concluded. 

“Ryan Saunders is an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets. In 2022-23, he helped lead the team to the franchise’s first-ever NBA championship. Prior to arriving in Denver, Saunders was the head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2018-21. At age 33, he was the youngest coach in the NBA following his hiring with Minnesota,” Sports Spectrum reported. 

Movieguide® previously reported on Saunders’ faith during the NBA Finals: 

“I’m far from the perfect Christian. I have plenty of flaws, as well all do. But I come here tonight humbly and knowing the Bible is true. That’s a main message for me,” he stated.  

“Church has always been a part of my family’s life and my life, but as time went on … my relationship with Christ grew,” he continued. “As we all know, any relationship takes effort. It takes commitment, and it goes through its ups and downs.” 

With any job, it’s difficult to know when to share your faith but when you’re coaching in the NBA it seems even harder.  

Saunders stated, “Do I bring up my faith? Because it is such a big part of my life,” he said. “You go back and forth because, ‘Hey, we need to spread the Gospel.’ You never know who it can touch. But you also want to be respectful of others too who don’t want it … shoved down their throats when they just come to watch how I design a post-up play or a baseline out-of-bounds play.”  

“But I have gotten to the point where I’m very comfortable always stating something on my faith during those moments,” Saunders concluded.  


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