As a child,Lawrence Frank says, "I was like a bad Hollywood actor. I kept hearing,'Cut! Cut! Cut!'" He was cut from so many basketball teams that he decided,at age 12, to concentrate on coaching. And though he's now slightly older andthe coach of the New Jersey Nets, Frank says, "I still get freakin'confused with the mascot half the time."
He's 5'8" butlooks shorter, 35 but looks younger. When fans ask him for his autograph, hethanks them. No wonder that when Frank replaced Byron Scott two years ago,Larry Brown said it sent the message, "Look, anybody can coach."Trouble was, Frank had the most successful debut of any coach in the four majorprofessional leagues, starting 13-0. Even before the streak ended, he had beenstripped of his necktie, which was shipped to the Basketball Hall of Fame,creating a haberdashery hardship for the coach. "I think I only had twoties," says Frank, whose look is CPA, not NBA.
This week the Netsenter the playoffs as the third seed in the East after a recent 14-game winningstreak, which raises the question, How did he ever get here? "People wouldask that question a lot the first year," says Frank, seated in the coaches'lounge at the Nets' practice facility, next to the couch on which he oftensleeps. "And not to sound smug, but it's not like I won a lottery. This issomething I've been working at for a long time."
As with mostHollywood actors, embarrassing video survives from Frank's past, from his briefplaying days as a child in Teaneck, N.J. "His arms are flapping," Franksays of his younger self, "his legs are pumping, but he's goingnowhere." Frank was a peculiar child--his favorite New York Knick was thecoach. "I was a big Hubie Brown fan," he says.
At 14 Frank made alist of his 100 goals in life. Among them was becoming a high school coach,then a third assistant in college, then a second assistant in college and soon, up the ladder to the NBA. "Strange as it sounds now," he says,"speaking at Five-Star was one of those goals."
Although theFive-Star Basketball Camp is for blue-chip players, 16-year-old Frank gotpermission to attend as an observer. Two years later he was a Five-Star coach.He'd already been cut from the Teaneck High team. "Even though I'mJewish," he says, "I joined a CYO team and became the player-coach.It's the only thing I have in common with Bill Russell."
In highschool--during a snowstorm, before a dreadful Nets game in the '80s, in frontof roughly eight people--Frank coached his CYO team at the Nets' arena in theMeadowlands, a few miles from his home in Teaneck.
MulticulturalTeaneck was the nation's earliest advocate of busing, and Frank's boyhoodfriends made a diverse and driven group. One wanted to be an agent. (AndyMiller now represents Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups.) Another planned toplay baseball. (Doug Glanville went from the Ivy League to the ivied outfieldat Wrigley.)
Frank attendedIndiana University in the sole hope of becoming a student manager for BobKnight, even though there were 65 applicants for four positions. "If Ididn't get it," he says, "I probably would have transferred." Hegot it and spent four years trying not to turn the boss's head. "Youdefinitely did not want to get noticed," he says.
Frank was anadvance scout for the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1998, when he attended his TeaneckHigh 10-year reunion. There, he reacquainted himself with classmate SusanDelaney. They were able to date only because Frank stayed on the East Coastduring the NBA labor dispute. "If not for the lockout," he says,"we wouldn't be married."
Three years agoFrank was laughing out loud at the in-flight entertainment on an airplane."You have to see this," he told Susan, who sighed in disbelief."That's Seinfeld," she said.
The Franks havetwo daughters, two-year-old Caitlin and four-year-old Dillon, who recentlyasked to sleep on the couch, just like her father. "This is yourdoing," Susan said to him.
Frank is still inNew Jersey, still watching the CYO games played before Nets games. But now oneof his team's owners is Jay-Z, the hip-hop mogul who dates Beyoncé. "It'snot like she's wearing a headset out front, answering the phones," saysFrank, walking through the Nets' offices. He adds, somewhat unnecessarily,"I guess I don't really mix with the celebrity crowd."
Maybe LawrenceFrank needs a cooler name, like Jay-Z or Beyoncé. "Everybody calls meL," he says gamely. "But we joke around here that they should call meRay. Because I give every coach out there a ray of hope."
•If you have acomment for Steve Rushin, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The coach of the New Jersey Nets is 5'8" but looksshorter, 35 but looks younger. "I still get freakin' confused with themascot half the time."