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The Dartmouth
March 2, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

‘We’re all better when we help each other’: United by basketball, the Lawrence family makes it their mission to give

Larry Lawrence ’80 was honored recently as a member of the 2023 Class of Legends of Ivy League Basketball.

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Until he steps out the door, there are few ways to predict what color hat he’ll be wearing.

While it was pink on Friday, March 11 — salmon, his brother insists — today, it might be orange. Your guess is as good as mine.

For Larry Lawrence ’80, who was honored March 11 as a member of the 2023 Class of Legends of Ivy League Basketball, wearing many hats is more than just an expression. 

The many different hats, which promote the Black Heart Foundation, signify just one of Lawrence’s many endeavors off the hardwood court. Started in 2000, the UK- and US-registered charity helps support students that grew up similarly to Lawrence, he explained.

“It helps provide kids going from high school to college with funding to be able to go to school,” Lawrence said. “Be it a club, transportation — whatever that kid may need to be at the next level.”

So far, the foundation — of which Lawrence is a trustee —  has endowed more than 500 students. The goal, Lawrence said, is to “try to get to 1,000 — and after that, to 5,000.”

Lawrence’s charity explains why for him, this honor is bigger than basketball.

“It’s a tremendous honor, of course, to be recognized as someone very unique in the history of the Ivy League and Dartmouth College,” Lawrence said. “But the more important thing — the more impactful thing for me — was just reconnecting, seeing again all of my teammates and so many people from years past that I hadn’t seen in a very long time.”

His younger brother, Leonard Lawrence, shared similar thoughts.

“It’s more important to us than it is to him,” Leonard Lawrence said. “Because for him this is great, and he really appreciates it, but his work is not done. He has a lot more work to do in his mind.”

Growing up, Lawrence was far from the Ivy League arena and a high-paying career in finance.

The brother of eleven siblings, Lawrence grew up in the small city of Macon, Georgia. For his already poor parents, raising that many kids was certainly a challenge, Lawrence said.

“My dad stopped school in third grade — my mom stopped in fourth grade,” Lawrence said. “But they found, somehow, some way to cobble together enough money and enough will to put twelve kids through college.”

It was 1975, and Lawrence, having just graduated high school at the budding age of sixteen, picked up a call from the house phone. On the other end, Dartmouth basketball head coach Gary Walters answered.

“Coach called me, spoke to me, spoke to my mom,” Lawrence said. “. . . all I wanted to do was play basketball. I was fortunate because my parents were intelligent enough to make us have good grades.”

Dartmouth was the only application Lawrence filled out. Months later, Lawrence officially became a member of the College’s Class of 1980.

Standing at 6’4”, Lawrence went on to have a standout career as a Dartmouth forward, becoming one of only two Dartmouth men’s basketball players to be named Ivy League Player of the Year. He did that in the 1980-1981 season while averaging 21.8 points and 8.7 rebounds, simultaneously earning AP All-America honorable mention and team MVP honors.

Lawrence had also been named team MVP two seasons prior, as a junior, when he led the team in scoring and rebounding to find himself on the All-Ivy League First Team. Lawrence would miss the next season due to a broken foot, though he was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the eighth round of the NBA Draft during the same season. Lawrence forwent that opportunity, though, returning in the 1980-1981 season due to injury eligibility rules and a desire to once more represent the Big Green.

After graduation, Lawrence would finally fulfill his dream of playing professional basketball — just not in the NBA.

Lawrence’s 20-year professional stint included four years in the now-former Continental Basketball Association and then 16 years in France.

“It was great because initially, as you can imagine, I did not go to Dartmouth to become a professional basketball player,” Lawrence said. “I went there because it was a great school. But I grew, I got older and I got a lot better, and I had an opportunity.” 

LJ Lawrence and his sister Alyssa Lawrence were born a year apart in France to Lawrence and his wife Arlene Lawrence. For Alyssa Lawrence and LJ Lawrence, who moved to the States when they were five and six, respectively, Lawrence was — and still is — a phenomenal father figure.

“He was nothing but loving, and it was always fun to be around him and always fun to be with him,” LJ Lawrence said. “He was always stern with me … but always from a ‘I want things to be good, so I’m going to be hard on you because I know you can do better, and I know you can excel.’”

Upon returning to the United States, Lawrence quickly pivoted into a successful career in finance, and he now serves as managing director of sales for Loop Capital.

If you happened to fall down in front of the Lawrence family,  their first instinct would be to help you.

It’s how Lawrence and Leonard Lawrence were raised, and how Lawrence then raised his own children.

“If there was someone that needed a meal, and you had lunch, share your lunch with them,” Leonard Lawrence said of the philosophy his parents instilled in him and Lawrence. “If you had someone who needed a buck or two, and you had five, maybe you’d give them two — so that you didn’t give them all of the things, but you gave them just enough to help them along.”

So it makes perfect sense that aside from his finance job, Lawrence remains actively involved with the Black Heart Foundation.

Even in France, Lawrence took time out of his busy schedule to found “Les Enfants de la Terre” — translated, in English, to “Children of the Earth” — a charity that helps orphaned youths across France. He also formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in New York which helps teach entrepreneurship to anyone ranging from middle schoolers to adults.This year, having finished sixth in Ivy League play with an overall 10-18 record this season, The Big Green men’s basketball team could use a helping hand.

“Coach reached out, and I was able to speak to current players as well as some young alums, and I talked to them about my journey,” Lawrence said. “And then afterwards, [I] just try to be a mentor and try to be something that’s a service to them. 

Still, Lawrence remains confident that the efforts of head coach David McLaughlin, who just wrapped up his seventh year at the helm of the team, are working.

In discussing Larry’s award, Leonard Lawrence said this: “While this is something he really appreciates and he understands the importance of, it’s not something that he belabors; he just simply says ‘Thank you, what’s next?’ Because there’s always somebody — something, some event — that he can influence positively.”

For Lawrence, that something, for now, is Dartmouth basketball.