Longtime followers of Ohio State men’s basketball will no doubt recognize the name Lawrence Funderburke, who played on the team from 1991 to 1994, and helped lead the Buckeyes to the 1992 Big Ten Championship and an Elite 8 NCAA tournament run.
But it’s not the accolades he received as a basketball Buckeye or as an NBA player for the Sacramento Kings and the Chicago Bulls that provide Funderburke the greatest sense of pride in his life to date. Rather, it’s the accomplishments in the classroom of the 1994 magna cum laude graduate, and his purpose-driven life built on community involvement, entrepreneurial pursuits, and a deep-rooted devotion to his family and his faith.
As a child growing up on welfare in an inner-city neighborhood on Columbus’ West Side, Funderburke was raised by his mother and had only three encounters with his biological father — none after age 9. And, although he excelled at sports, he also was driven to compete at the highest level academically. After spending his freshman year of college at Indiana University, where he played basketball, Funderburke returned to his home city to play for the Buckeyes and pursue a bachelor’s degree in finance at Fisher.
“I knew business was something I wanted to venture into,” Funderburke said. “When you’re a student-athlete, you’re not necessarily guided to pursue degrees that take a lot of mental stamina to complete, but I knew I wanted to major in business finance. I wasn’t going let anyone change that for me; the decision was set in stone.”
In the classroom, Funderburke worked hard and demonstrated exceptional strength of character to his professors.
“A lot of professors required that you earn their respect,” he said. “I’d introduce myself to them on the first day of the quarter and tell them I wasn’t expecting anything special, just the opportunity to learn from their class.
“I told them, ‘I’m going to be in class the next morning, on time, even if we have a late-night road trip from an away game.’ In turn, this immediately diffused the tension that existed then, and still exists today, between academic intellectuals and the key players in big-money athletics. This tug-of-war phenomenon is real!”
Paying forward through stewardship and service
Growing up in an economically disadvantaged household, Funderburke has never forgotten about the struggles his family endured during those difficult years. He even keeps a food stamp in his pocket as a constant reminder.
Funderburke made good on a vow, two decades removed from abject poverty, after signing his second NBA contract.
“I made a promise to myself and to God that if I was ever put into a position to give back, that I would do just that,” he said.
In 2000, while still in the NBA, he put that promise to pay forward into motion by founding the Lawrence Funderburke Youth Organization (LFYO). The non-profit teaches central Ohio youth about financial responsibility and that there’s more to education than earning a high school diploma. The real reward, as he points out, is the process. Through his work with LFYO, Funderburke has brought high school students to Fisher’s campus to help them gain perspective about life in the college classroom.
Funderburke built the organization with a deliberate focus on academics, with particular attention toward business studies. He doesn’t hide his bias and love for Fisher College of Business.
“I wanted the organization to be more academic-related verses being sports-focused,” he said. “Kids don’t know that there are a lot of stellar academic opportunities, and I want them to focus on the academic side.”
In 2001, he established the Funderburke Fisher College of Business Scholarship fund, which provides financial assistance to minority underrepresented students who have been accepted into Fisher, with additional consideration given to students who have participated in LFYO.
Following his professional sports career, Funderburke earned his MBA. Later, he completed his Certified Financial Planner (CFP) studies at Fisher, and he has frequently returned to campus as a guest lecturer for personal finance classes.
As a former college and professional athlete, Funderburke holds a unique perspective, which he’s used to benefit Ohio State athletes. During summer 2016, he visited Fisher’s campus and met with current and former athletes to provide supplemental education focused on investing and giving them a head start on managing the potential windfall from their earnings as professional athletes. He also cautioned them of the added scrutiny they are under today compared to when he was a student-athlete.
“I can relate to the athletes because I know what they’re going through with the excitement and the pressure of people always recognizing you on campus,” he said. “They understand that I’m on their level, and I can make an emotional connection with them. They see a kindred spirit, and that helps form a level of trust — an authenticity — and they appreciate that.”
From athlete to entrepreneur
After 11 years of playing professional sports, Funderburke recalls that the transition back to life outside the pros was challenging and a test of his strength of character.
“No one preps you for the day when you fly into the phone both as Superman and walk out permanently as Clark Kent, because it’s a reality that few people in professional sports care to talk about,” he said. “It’s very challenging, and the game in the arena outside of professional basketball is a lot slower, with very few fans in attendance to cheer you on. You quickly learn that you are on your own, and that the establishment of a holistic mindset is imperative.”
But Funderburke’s experience as a professional athlete also motivated him to pursue another of his passions: writing. In 2005, he published his first book titled Hook Me Up, Playa!, which examines the dark side of professional athletics through personal stories and interviews with former NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB players.
Today, he credits his time as a student-athlete for preparing him to overcome many of the challenges he’s faced in business because of the lessons he learned about managing time and priorities.
“It’s very challenging to be a student-athlete,” he said. “You quickly discover that time is limited, and you learn the importance of taking care of business in the classroom. So, from that experience, my foundation was set.”
In his interactions with high school and college students today, Funderburke stresses the importance of pursuing a flexible degree that aligns with their values. He urges young people to attend college, but he emphasizes the importance of pursing a degree that provides sufficient income to afford their lifestyle and to pay off any student loans.
Blending his passions for both fitness and finance, Funderburke founded Fundermax Fitness in 2014. But unlike traditional fitness studios, the business combines physical training with financial education to create an innovative, holistic approach to physical and financial well-being.
He runs the business with his wife, Monya, a certified fitness instructor and a 1997 Ohio State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history.
“Both Monya and I hold health in high regard,” Funderburke said. “I’m also passionate about helping people financially because health and finances go hand-in-hand.”
The company caters to a wide range of individual clients, but it also focuses on middle-market companies by working to help the firms implement health and wellness programs that provide both financial and fitness training for employees. Funderburke notes that financial stress is a growing problem, and his company works with employers to help them provide financial education for their workers.
“Someone may complain to their employer that they’re not making enough money,” he said. “But oftentimes it’s simply that many people don’t understand how to manage their money.”
The Funderburkes have two children, a son and a daughter, and live in central Ohio. Outside of their family commitments, the couple devotes time to giving back to children with similar backgrounds to their own. With a nod to Lawrence’s inner-city childhood and to Monya’s blue-collar Chillicothe roots, the Funderburkes focus on encouraging youth from inner-city Columbus and Appalachian students from southern Ohio to attend college, particularly at Ohio State.
During his time at Fisher, Funderburke encountered several memorable faculty members. In particular, he notes Dr. Roger Blackwell, a former marketing professor whom he’s remained friends with throughout the years and who’s devoted time to Funderburke’s charitable organization, LFYO.
Additionally, Blackwell served as a consultant for Funderburke’s second book, Sociopsychonomics™: How Social Classes Think, Act, and Behave Financially in the 21st Century. The book examines how different socioeconomic classes behave within different areas of financial planning. For more information, please visit MrFundy.com.
As an Ohio State basketball player, Funderburke spent countless hours in St. John Arena, and although his fondest Ohio State memory occurred in that historic venue, it had nothing to do with athletics.
“During graduation, it was great sitting next to my peers in St. John Arena and having them see me as more than a basketball player; they also realized I was a scholar and on the dean’s list as magna cum laude,” Funderburke said. “But my proudest Ohio State memory was when I was handed my degree by Gordon Gee. I’ll never forget that.”