A nine-year-old New Jersey boy was removed as head coach of the NBA's Nets on Sunday after investigators determined his age and that he was being forced by contract to coach the moribund basketball team in a rundown building among the refineries and swamps of northern New Jersey.
"Of all of my years in the department, this was among the worst cases I've seen," said Sandra Barker, an officer for the state's Child Protective Services agency. "He was forced to watch the Nets night after night for more than five years. As far as I'm concerned, there can be no punishment great enough for those responsible."
In addition to the deplorable working conditions and his age, the child, Lawrence Frank, was left with a roster featuring no more than two or three legitimate NBA starters resulting in an 0-16 start to the season.
"He's a good little boy," said Barker. "He deserved better. To his credit, he did have some success here a few years ago. I remember hearing that the team was competitive. There were playoff appearances. It wasn't always this bad. But they still never should have had a young child as coach. As bad as the Knicks are, they would never do something like this."
As the stress of being asked to hold down a job usually reserved for grown men five or six times his age built up, the success on the court diminished, leading to back-to-back seasons without making the playoffs and then a winless start to this season.
"I hate basketball," said little Frank upon his rescue. "I want to eat candy."
Child Services officers hope to reunite Frank with one of his former head coaches as an assistant.
"Maybe one day he can be a head coach again in the NBA," said Barker. "Decades from now when he's older and the memory of this is gone. I just hope he's not ruined forever."