An Interview With Former NBA Player Lawrence Funderburke on Stewardship

Professional athletes struggle. While many don’t struggle financially, it’s a hard journey transitioning from the post into purpose. This transition was nothing for former NBA Power Forward, Lawrence Funderburke.

Funderburke, 48, was a basketball star at Ohio State University from 1991 to 1994. There he led the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament. In 1994 he began playing professional basketball in Europe. After three years he transitioned to the American league. He began his eight-year career with the Sacramento Kings and ended it in 2005 with the Chicago Bulls.

Funderburke retired from the league at 34 well prepared for the next phase of his life. In my interview with Funderburke, he described his life-long journey with God. He believes His relationship with God was what prepared him most for what he would do post his career.

Lawrence Funderburke’s Early Life

Thanks to an elderly white man, Funderburke gave his life to Christ at the tender age of 12. Remembering how he “grew up in, arguably the most difficult, challenging housing project in central Ohio,” Funderburke recalled how this elderly white man “would pick us up on the bus [stop] and would give us a doughnut to entice us to go to church.” Funderburke admitted he only went to church for the doughnut. But while he was there he “came to know the sweetness of Jesus as well.”

Funderburke quickly learned that accepting Christ and walking with Him are two very different things. Like most professional athletes, Funderburke engaged in the life of a basketball player. While “partying and carousing and [doing] stuff that was very common in professional sports,” Funderburke felt a “gnawing feeling” that he couldn’t live like this anymore. So he walked away from it. Funderburke said, “Lord, I’m going to surrender to you. I’m not going to run. I’m not going to hide. It has been 21 years since that time.”

Comprehensive Care of God’s World

Armed with His relationship with God, a Bachelors degree in Business Finance, and a Masters in Business Administration from Ohio State University, Funderburke is committed to using his gifts to educate and give to the Columbus, Ohio community and beyond.

An author of three books, a certified financial planner since 2010, and the CEO and Co-Founder of Lawrence Funderburke Youth Organization, Funderburke is constantly looking for ways to best help his community financially and through mentorship with his wife Monya. His most recent book, The Stewardship Playbook: Biblical Guidelines and Practical Tools to Handle God’s Possessions with Diligence and Care helps readers take ownership and accountability for their possessions. “Stewardship is more than money,” He said. Funderburke explained that “most people think of stewardship in terms of managing your finances…[But] everything we do should be an act of worship to the Lord – our charity, our work experiences. When we treat them as a form of worship we look at work a lot differently.

Practical Pointers: The Stewardship Playbook

I asked Funderburke if he could give me some pointers on the various ways we can be good stewards for God. He began to break down the different categories we are responsible for and why. I found it to be very practical advice that can be used in all aspects of life.

  • Stewardship of Time: Funderburke is not a Seventh-day Adventist, but he spoke about allows allocating time for rest. He said, “I’ve always [known] that the Sabbath is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I know some people say it has changed, but I don’t buy that in scripture.”
  • Stewardship of Talents: Funderburke believes that all talents are given by God. He said, “when you come from the housing projects like I did you go through this [need]…to validate yourself in the eyes of others. And I did that. [We look] for the applause of men and women to make [ourselves] feel good. I felt that…getting in the NBA was all my doing, when in actuality the Lord gave me the skills and abilities, and I took His credit. He really convicted me that everything you have is a gift that belongs to Jesus. For many people who are very skilled and very talented the temptation is to always take credit…”
  • Stewardship of Temple: The Funderburkes believe in the importance of physical health.  Monya, a certified Personal Trainer, is particularly involved with FunderMax Fitness. A co-owned and co-operated health facility, she teaches a class called “physical tune-ups” that includes education on the importance of both diet and exercise. Lawrence explained to me that, “even our tastebuds belong to the Lord. We believe we can eat what we want, but at the same time the Bible says, you reap what you sow. If you’re eating bad foods you’re going to reap the consequences.” Lawrence then began to talk about how they eat healthy as a family: “we eat very clean. I don’t eat pork, I don’t eat shellfish, I don’t eat dairy, I don’t eat GMOs, I don’t eat gluten. We eat only real foods, organic foods the way God created them.”

I Am A Role Model

Although it would be easy for Funderburke to rest in his accomplishments coasting through retirement, he relishes the chance to be a role model and help others find peace – financially, physically, and spiritually. He asked, “[Do] you remember the old Charles Barkley commercial where he says, ‘I am not a role model?'” “I rejected that. The Bible is clear. To whom much is given, much is required. As athletes we have a very revered place in society. Sometimes we’re given too much attention. Nevertheless, we have a tremendous responsibility.”

Funderburke proceeded to explain how this responsibility is magnified because he is an African American man who comes from a single-family household that lived on welfare for 18 years. He said, “I have a tremendous responsibility to say i’m from this environment [but]…you can still be successful in spite of what your environment says.” In fact, Funderburke keeps a food stamp in his pocket as a reminder “of what what poverty was like.” He is intentional about keeping it and looking at it because he “never want[s] to be disconnected from where [he] came from.” “A lot of athletes lose sight of the path they had to take to get to where they are,” he said. And maybe it’s this loss of sight that makes it hard for them to find their way forward.


The Numbers Are Staggering.

According to the Chicago Tribune, 762 people were killed and more than 4,000 people were shot in 2016. Even President Donald Trump tweeted that federal help may be necessary.

“If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible “carnage” going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!” 9:25 PM – 24 Jan 2017

Thought About Jumping Into the Fight? Tio Hardiman knows how.

Chicago is not alone when it comes to record-breaking crime. The murders of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando made international news. According to the website, other cities with a significant increase in the murder rate are: San Antonio (61%), Memphis (56%), Louisville (44%), Phoenix (36%), and Las Vegas (31%). Those cities, not including Orlando, were responsible for 76% of the rise in murder among big cities last year.

Just because the numbers seem insurmountable doesn’t mean local citizens have stopped fighting for their cities. Tio Hardiman, the Executive Director of Violence Interrupters, NFP, has been on the front lines in Chicago for more than 25 years and isn’t ready to give up. Hardiman, who joined Cease Fire in 1999, has made tangible results in the community. From 2012 to 2013, homicides had dropped in Chicago by 25%.

“This isn’t just a violence problem, it’s a public health problem,” Hardiman said. “This is a sickness, and to heal it you have to diagnose the problem.”

So, as someone on the front lines, Hardiman has some suggestions on how to make a difference:

Know your history.

To make a difference, you must know what happened before your arrival. “Many times governments bring in people from the outside who don’t respect what happened before,” Hardiman said. “You can’t fix anything without investigating the root cause.”

Know the players.

Hardiman has personally negotiated ceasefires through tense situations, and a big reason the former gubernatorial candidate is still standing is because of the respect he has earned in the inner city. “Many of the homicides are misunderstandings that become something bigger. I call it ‘crazy cousin syndrome’,” Hardiman said. “Two people get in an argument, someone bumps into someone else, and then other people get involved. If you don’t know who is connected to who, you can’t sit in a room and work it out.”

Get someone who speaks their language.

Violence Interrupters, NFP trains and employs violence intervention experts to mediate. These experts are usually people who were participants, but are now peacemakers. “It lowers the recidivism rate and gives the community highly trained people with street credentials,” Hardiman said. According to him, “1,400 people drive the violence in Chicago. If we can turn them into peacemakers, there’s no limit to what we can do.”

Role of the police.

Hardiman calls the police an “ambulance service.” As he sees it, the role of the police is not conflict resolution. “Think about it,” Hardiman said. “They are usually called to respond to a problem. Not before.”

Immediate family’s role.

Those who can make the biggest difference in conflict are family members of the shooters. “We have to tell them there is no place in the family for violent crime. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and other extended family can hold them accountable,” Hardiman said. He even tells of nephews who were tough. “I had to get together with my brothers and other family members to set them straight. So many family dynamics are dysfunctional. We have to band together.” This leads to the Black community.

Black on Black solutions.

A tight-knit community is vital to facilitate change. “Black Lives Matter can be so much more effective,” Hardiman said. “Imagine 30,000, 40,000 people in downtown Chicago demanding safe communities.”  “We can have the same unity in our neighborhood that we do to protest national causes.”

Perhaps the biggest cause is reducing the number of deaths in Black communities. “Let’s be honest,” Hardiman said. The war on drugs has failed and murder has been a problem in Chicago since the first mayor, Daley (Richard M. Daley was mayor from 1955 to 1976).  Black death has become a hustle. It’s not about the victims and their pain anymore. Even the criminal justice system would be bankrupt. It has turned into business.”

He might come across as no-nonsense in his approach, but Hardiman has a saying that carries throughout his negotiation: “There’s no way to mediate conflict without confrontation.”


John Devine is an assistant sports editor for the Miami Herald