Sean Birdsong | Founder

In this KC Cares interview, we speak with Sean Birdsong, founder of the Global Ballers Foundation. A former professional basketball player and son of an NBA player, Birdsong created the foundation to provide kids with educational tools beyond the classroom. The foundation hosts sports clinics and camps that teach life skills, using sports as a platform to address careers, mental and physical health, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and social awareness. Birdsong’s organization also educates parents about the pressures they may inadvertently put on their children in sports. Despite funding challenges, the foundation has been involved in events with the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers, providing free opportunities for kids whose parents may not afford standard basketball camps. Birdsong’s commitment to helping youth reflects his personal journey in sports and his belief in life beyond sports.

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(00:00) KC cares is the intersection of the non-profit and profit communities making Kansas City a better place to live work and play this KC care segment is brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation www.Kauffman.org I’m Ruth Baum Biggus for Sean Birdsong Sports has been his life the son of an NBA player Sean started playing basketball at a young age ultimately competing on the court in college as well as professionally in the Continental Basketball Association in the Premier basketball league while many

(00:31) kids love sports few make it to the level Shawn has experienced and knowing the transformative nature of sports Sean saw that participation can mean so much more for kids so with a commitment to help youth excel at every level he created American Ballers and its non-profit arm the global Ballers Foundation providing kids with Educational Tools that they don’t get in any classroom setting the foundation hosts a variety of sporting clinics and camps providing a dose of life skills while kids play the sports they love

(01:02) Sean is joining us today to talk about his efforts and his journey to help kids become the best humans that they can be and we’re so lucky to have Sean with us welcome to KC cares good morning roof how are you doing I’m doing great and it’s so good to see you outside of a coffee shop right right that was a very good coffee shop by the way yeah we’ll put in a plug there for robo cup Sean let’s talk a little bit about your journey in sports I alluded to it of course in our introduction but I want

(01:33) our audience to really know where you come from and that we can talk about the passion that you’ve used to create your foundation uh thank you for having me this morning again um I come from a I would say very rich education background as well as Sports background um my my mother was an educator Candace Birdsong for 30 years in the Kansas City Kansas School District and my father was a NBA player Elvis Birdsong played 12 years in the NBA so I grew up basically having basketball and education really at the Forefront since I was a baby

(02:15) um my younger brother and I Sydney we of course played various sports soccer um football baseball outside with the friends but basketball was really a center part of uh us both growing up you didn’t have quote the normal upbringing though and I wanted to talk a little bit about that being the son of a professional athlete how how did that balance at home you had a mom who was an educator and then you have a pro athlete how did they create a balance and share with you what they felt were really the important life lessons

(02:53) well it’s a great question it was very unique uh situation um I do know you know I remember the last few years of my dad’s playing career in New Jersey so I was born in New Jersey um when he was playing with the Nets my mother and my father met here in Kansas City when he was playing with the Kansas City Kings so I believe 1981 um when he his contract was up with Kansas City and he signed his free agent to New Jersey they moved to New Jersey um I was born two years later and I just remember um you know that last year in New Jersey

(03:30) from my memory um you know just players coming over to the house or us going over players house me going to the Meadowlands Arena um down in East Rutherford New Jersey going being in the locker room you know with a lot of those guys coming in and out um opponents you know Michael Jordan and Magic and all of those guys so I think um growing up around that I didn’t really understand that it was anything special I guess you can say um it was just normal to me um but also I remember my mother um being you know later on we got a

(04:03) little older you know she just really has always been a hard worker um and not really just your so-called NBA wife stay-at-home mother um she did take a few years off you know to to raise of course my younger brother myself but I do remember vividly later on those last few years um from my dad’s career she got out there and was like Hey I’m you know I’m gonna do a part-time thing I’m gonna go out and teach and I’m gonna go get out the house and do things like that so that work ethic um from him playing basketball and my

(04:32) mother um also being a teacher and all of that that really kind of shaped at that time the way I was thinking about okay we’re in the school but we also going to the arena we’re going to school and all of that so that was a that was an awesome experience um during that time and then also you know his last year in Boston you know I remember when he he left New Jersey um and signed with the Celtics his last year I remember you know us going to Boston and and being up there you know with with Larry Bird and uh Robert

(05:04) Parish and Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson all those guys like that was that was a good experience within itself because again I was a young kid didn’t understand the rich tradition of the Boston Celtics but as I got older and I looked back on it I was like wow like I was really in the locker room and you know in a a team meeting with you know Jimmy Rogers at the time who was the head coach um drawing up plays and things like that and me and you know my young Brothers running around with balls and things

(05:30) like that um that was a that was a cool situation as well I I think there’s a movie here but I digress be an interesting movie great idea yeah yeah a peek into the locker room but you yourself excelled in sports it through high school and and then you went into the college experience and then into the the pro ranks yourself so at what point did you make a decision of this is just it’s more than just playing the sport how did that come about for you um my senior year in high school and not too many people know this story a lot of

(06:12) a few people who are around the situation know the story but not too many people know the story so um in high school you know for a few years there I struggled with you know uh grades and things like that and one year in particular you know from my freshman year going into my sophomore year I was ineligible um the first five games of playing basketball because I you know at Bonner Springs High School where I attended the grade system was abcf there were no D’s math was always a struggle for me um and I think I believe it was a

(06:43) Spanish class of a struggle for me so I unfortunately you know if you failed I believe was either two or three at the time you couldn’t play the next the next semester so I actually had to sit out and I think sitting out um during that time and actually looking observant like okay this is really more than basketball because if you don’t get your grades if you if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do off the court you really can not play the game that you love to play so going through those

(07:08) situations in my senior year I broke my foot um seven games into the season that and I was lost for the season I was really a wake-up call um I believe I had UMKC New Mexico University um Indiana State University Kansas when coach Roy Williams was there I was getting a lot of letters and a lot of you know calls and things like that going into my senior year that was also a wake-up call to work you know I broke my foot and I had to transition um and and think about okay this is really the second time that basketball

(07:42) has been taken away from me so at that moment my senior year I remember like was yesterday I was really sitting in my room and I was like you know if basketball doesn’t work out I really have to start looking towards the future and I was when I was 17 years old so um after those situations I had to go you know Juco um played at Highland Community College for two years and then after that I fortunately was able to get a scholarship um to Lincoln University HBCU in Jefferson City Missouri NCAA school played there

(08:14) um and that was a a great situation itself um but it was just really the grind of trying to get you know back you know unless you’ve you know to the viewers um having to go through the Juco ranks and then try to fight your way back to go to an NCAA level type type experience it can really take a mental toll on you and I even experienced that going into uh the CBA um that that first year after I left Lincoln University as well as as far as the mental toll um in the minor leagues you know playing professionally

(08:53) um having coaches tell you that if you have a couple bad games you may get sent home you know that was a daily reminder to us all of us in practice the minority level hey there’s no guaranteed contracts here that’s the NBA level um but if you guys aren’t playing up to par we can send you guys home and bring other guys in that was the reality of always trying to be on your toes since I broke my foot in high school so how and where did you get support you knew that there had to be something I guess to fall back on or continue your

(09:29) life I mean you’re a young person at that point what swooped in to support and help you um during my high school years I basically have course um and I say of course because I know a lot of kids aren’t fortunate to have it but that was my reality uh when I say of course you know my mother um you know my dad even though they had gotten a divorce um when after he retired he was still involved um you know in our in our lives and my mother um was was our was a teacher I mean she was she understood what we were dealing

(10:03) with and my uncle you know my Uncle Mike Iman Sandy and a lot of my grandmother at the time when she was alive um here like I had a I had a support system from grandparents uncles um aunts and and of course my mom but um also AAU coaches you know we had Au coaches that also would tell us the reason why I have you guys here in the gym on a Friday night and a Saturday night is to not have you guys in the streets you know because we honestly have even though I played at Bonner Springs and my mother she was really um

(10:32) she was really Savvy you know she’s from KCK and she was seven she told me this when we were she’s like listen yeah you’re out here in school at Bonner to get a good education and and graduate but if you’re gonna play basketball you need to learn how to play with multiple players like from all backgrounds and all walks of life so she put us into AAU team in Kansas City Missouri with you know you had um coach Al Collins who coached you know or Watson NBA great um Jaron Rush Kareem Rush uh Brandon

(11:03) Rush and Malcolm Campbell and Jeff Hawkins and Wayne Simmons a lot of guys that came through um The Running Rebels in Kansas city so we were a part of that for like three years and we got exposure um to go to Las Vegas to go to Los Angeles but Gail Collins and also Al Collins who are our coaches would say you know always keep God first that’s really what we were um you know that was really our influence as far as hey same thing you get injured you tomorrow’s not promised you know keep him first uh go forward in

(11:36) in everything that you do um and everything will be great that was the kind of support system we had growing up so let’s look at those trials and tribulations from breaking my foot and then the the grind in college and then going into the CBA and all of that I always had those that you know those those people in my mind as far as what I went back to um you know when I was younger so let’s fast forward this is your life experience how did you then put American Ballers and your foundation together and and

(12:11) what is it that you want to or want to accomplish with it so after I finished playing a buddy of mine um Mike Copeland he actually worked at a place kvc it’s a behavioral health care center and he told me about you know he you know giving back to kids and they were going these outings and mentorship and all of that to young kids so he said hey this may be something that you might want to go into and look into man it’s really it’s really cool you know giving back to the kids and all that so went there and I actually you know

(12:46) interacting with those kids had a different mindset seeing the struggles that they had um of course I was interested in doing that based on the fact that my family were Educators so giving back to the kids in that way and understanding where they come from where there was traumas and things like that that opened my eyes to a lot of the reason why kids act the way they do and the reason why honestly a lot of adults may act the way they do as far as their upbringing so with me being involved in basketball camps and Clinics after I finished

(13:17) playing I’ve worked with the Dallas Mavericks for a few years doing skill development with their youth um youth events and then also that led to me being a part of the NBA assistant coaches program um in New York City to where they the NBA prepares you to coach if you want to on the NBA and NBA G league so I’ll coach combines and things like that in New York City with a lot of Hall of Famer you know Paul Silas former great um NBA player Hall of Famer George Lynch Rex Walters former Kansas player a lot

(13:48) of these guys that were getting into coaching I was in the room with these guys and just picking their brain and listening to them so doing that helping the Dallas Mavericks being involved in other camps um hearing the kids stories at these camps were kind of touching to the to where it was well we we play the game of sports um whether it’s basketball football and then we go home to our home lives whether it’s mother or mother’s there with boyfriend you know boyfriend smokes marijuana um I’m seeing this abuse I’m seeing this

(14:20) it was almost like wow so you guys are some really smart kids but you’re going home to this kind of home life that is like a distraction so in 2000 18 um I had the idea to kind of start my own um I guess you could say camps and Clinics as far as the non-profit side goes to really give back to the kids like okay instead of us giving you know t-shirts and just saying hey stay in school don’t do drugs which is what we grew up on how about we do a little bit more and like try to add to this to really like try to

(14:56) change um the lives of these kids we’re talking with Sean bird song American Ballers and his non-profit Global Ballers Foundation so how does this work and how do you infuse in this let’s say two-hour session that you’ve got with kiddos some who are coming in with home life that are let’s say less than ideal how do you put both things together so they can walk out of there and maybe have a little bit of change with both skills both skills that’s a great question well a lot of people they look at

(15:33) professional athletes whether in the NFL or NBA as okay they’re superheroes sometimes fans forget that these guys and women and WNBA that they’re human they have ordinary problems just like everybody else um you just happen to see the glitz and the glamor on TV but these you know individuals do have issues as far as anything anything that that you can probably think of but um 2018 when I started it I wanted to purposely bring in NBA and WBA players um to come and talk to the kids to say Hey you definitely can make it but these

(16:09) are the steps that you’re going to have to take so I just got on the phone with my with my resources fortunately I had resources growing up to reach out to different players and all of that so you know I would say hey I’m doing this basketball clinic or this Camp would love for you to come in be like a mentor to these kids of course teach basketball skills but we want to talk about life um and education off of the court and our first event was with the Brooklyn Nets organization in New York City brought my

(16:36) father in and brought former NBA All-Star um Michael Ray Richardson in also played with the Knicks and the Nets and it was a great event we had about maybe 80 70 to 80 kids from the New York City area come out to the Barclay Center the you know the Brooklyn Nets they laid it out for us um and we were able to have it at their practice facility which was all awesome the kids loved it and that was really the start of getting this ball going um the Los Angeles Lakers were next in that you know with a great um Keisha Nix

(17:05) you know vice president over there at the Lakers and Miss Linda Rambis um whose wife of former NBA player and Laker Kurt Rambis you know she invited me out there was like hey we like what you’re doing with American Ballers we love you to come up here and talk to these kids and all that so after that you know we did events with Orlando Magic and then um and then we went to Houston and this this has been rolling since then but we I bring in these guys and gals to talk to the kids about education but also what to do in the community

(17:38) um our five pillars for American Ballers and the global bars Foundation are careers Health which is your mental health could be physical health um Finance you know financial literacy is heavy entrepreneurship and also social awareness which is your drug and alcohol prevention and also policing um in in communities how to interact with the police and when we’re in Houston when we first brought in an individual from from the police department previously back in 2020.

(18:10) um it was the first time that I saw you know when the police asked hey how many of you guys know a cop or you know how many of you guys you know interact with police or how many of you guys are scared of police and when they ask the question of how many guys you scare the police you know a lot of the kids like raise their hand because they only see the negative side of policing well my grandfather was a policeman you know growing up and my you know I have cousins who were Sheriff so I saw the other side of the law as far as okay

(18:41) I know that there are are good cops out there um trying to do the right thing so we just try to bring that awareness to the kids um in all of these topics that we discuss with them at these clinics how many clinics are you doing I mean are they every month are they and and where and how do you choose the kiddos that get to participate great question so we reach out to the community um so the high schools middle schools um our ages are 8 to 17 but we try to more so for the education part you know we don’t turn the kids down but for the

(19:14) education probably really try to talk to the middle school and high school kids because they’re the kids that’s the age group that’s really about to go into college if they want to or if they leave cop if they leave High School excuse me and they’re going into a trade you know some of them may not want to go to college we understand that but they’re at the age to where they can really understand hey I’m going to start working you know I’m going to start getting a part-time job and start

(19:35) worrying about my finances um and and also you know those kind of saving type habits um so we just reach out to different um organizations and say hey we’re providing this this camper Clinic would love to to bring this to your students and it’s been it’s been great I mean we’ve we started out doing one clinic or two clinics a year starting out and then covet hit um but that was was a different situation within itself but fortunately you know we held clinics to where we kept our masks on and then also we had a

(20:10) few clinics to where Tiffany Hayes he’s a WNBA player with the Atlanta Dream she was like hey Sean this is great you know I know that the city I believe the city of Atlanta at the time wasn’t fully open yet I don’t believe um but I think parts of parts of the city was um and she had her own gym so she was like hey we can host it here at my gym and we brought kids from Atlanta out and she brought um Dwayne bacon he was the guest speaker he was he was the current player with the Charlotte Hornets at the

(20:39) time he’s now overseas playing but he came and talked to the kids so we try to get about one a month um upcoming this year we’re looking at about five in July alone so we’ve been picking up um yes we’ve been picking up a lot um of Buzz and actually have had people calling us hey we heard about Ballers we like to get you guys involved with with our organization here or you mind coming out here so I’m very very proud about where we’re headed as an organization why did you decide to create a

(21:12) non-profit arm when you already kind of had a gig going why did you decide then well we need a foundation we need to to have that be part of this that’s a great question so unfortunately in you know certain communities of of color um kids are able to afford your standard basketball camp you know and I’m not gonna you know go down the list of players who put on camps every year but they’re you know some of these teams organizations um rightfully so you know it’s a it is a business um they charge x amount of dollars for

(21:47) kids to come in and go to the camps well there are some kids that love to play basketball love to play football but their parents just can’t afford to pay for a basketball camp um so when I got you know the idea of hey we can give back in a different way these kids still deserve to have a right to an education have a right to um top quality athletes you know I’m fortunate to bring in Hall of Fame basketball players and Hall of Fame football players and it’s free for the kids you know so I don’t want to say It’s A disruption to

(22:21) what everybody else is kind of doing but it’s kind of like hey this is what I want to offer to the kids because we know that their parents um can’t afford to it but we still want to give back the same knowledge and you know we want to make it a fair we want to make it an even even playing field across the board whether you can pay for it clinic or you can’t pay for a clinic so by having the non-profits you could raise funds and then underwrite costs for kiddos who who couldn’t come exactly any other way and do that and I I want

(22:52) to be sure to share with our audience too he’s not just doing the foundation is not just doing basketball they’re in all kinds of sports you were recently part of the NFL draft so it sounds like you’re using Sports all together not just basketball yes and our our company 83 Ventures you know I was born in 1983 so that’s where I got the concept um under 83 Ventures we have American Ballers beyond the court which is our you know podcast that we started when covet hit a lot of former players you

(23:28) know Rick Barry Hall of Famer Marcus Johnson Hall of Fame Rogers Gilmore a lot of these guys George Gervin you know at the time we’re like hey we really don’t want to uh you know get on a plane right now totally understandable but you know hey let’s we can have a dialogue and we can still get a message across um via online okay that’s that’s even better so that’s when we started that um nothing but net Sports was our training business is really what we how we train kids and whether it’s um

(23:55) physical fitness basketball cleaners camps things like that and then American ballers in the gold bars Foundation so we we pretty much try to really give back um to the youth um on a variety of ways as well as parents we try to educate parents and I try to bring in professionals from the community um to talk about you know whether it’s mental health um whether it’s you know talking to the parents about not being too hard on your on your son or daughter is just a game you know we always get thrown out the

(24:27) sports mom or Sports dad but if you’ve never really lived it a lot of these parents unfortunately don’t understand that when you put pressure on your kids to play a sport or to do anything really you’re kind of steering them away from what you want them to do they’re going to back off of it and they may um you know if you’re writing a kid saying hey you need to get up and do this do this and they really don’t want to by the time the refreshment of sophomore in high school they’re

(24:52) probably just going to quit and we’ve seen that before so we try to talk to the parents as well as not really trying to tell them how to parent but when it comes to the sports thing it’s like hey we know we’ve seen this before it’s like back off a little bit let them enjoy the game um let them enjoy school let them enjoy the the things that that we all enjoy don’t try to push them too hard great great advice what’s the best place for our audience to go check out what you’re doing with the foundation and

(25:20) overall your website yes our website is uh American slash baller so that’s American minus signballers.com and also um Instagram I’m at the Sean bird song on Instagram and also our LinkedIn um Sean Burson on LinkedIn running the non-profit component of your activities what’s the greatest challenge that you face the greatest challenge I face oh besides raising money well there you go raising money so so uh any tips for anybody or how can they support you I was going to say it’s an opportunity for volunteers to work with

(26:04) you in any fashion well and I say I say that’s one of them one of the the problems were you know or is to raise money but I’m really particular in who we involve and that’s where I I guess that’s kind of a struggle because I’m not a person I’ve never I was never raised this way to just hey go try to seek um funding for an organization from anybody the one thing that I told the players when I first started American balls is hey are you guys involved with kids everybody who’s been involved in

(26:34) American Ballers and you can look at our website um the players have been involved they either all have a foundation they either all have kids themselves or they’re involved in some type of basketball component or education component I never want to just bring in anybody to just tell the kids a different message or a wrong message who aren’t really invested and that’s kind of the approach that I have when it comes to fundraising and the non-profit world I want to align myself um you know with people who want to give

(27:03) back to the community who want to service the community and of course who like who like sports but also see that there’s life beyond Sports um so many times in the world now there’s a lot of stuff going on but we try to I try to get across if we as a as a society put more into the kids I think in my opinion the world would be a better place because the kids are the Next Generation coming up who are going to take care of us but what we see is so many adults trying to take care of other adults which I understand it but if we invested that

(27:42) much money into the the younger generation I think it would be a a better place you know I think you know Charles Barkley I’m not sure if you watch um Inside the NBA or not um on TNT but Giannis antetokupo from the Milwaukee Bucks had a great great um line after the game that they they lost um to get eliminated in the playoffs and it was going around you know it went viral he was basically trying to report her when he asked him it’s like do you view this season as a failure he was like why would I view this season as a

(28:14) failure it was like first of all I’m in the NBA he’s like we are champions he said but there’s steps to the process you know he said you look at your job as a failure if you don’t get promoted every every couple years you know do you you look at yourself in the mirror and say hey I’m a failure because I know I got promoted last or three years ago but I haven’t gotten promoted in a few years so everything you’ve done up to that point is a failure no and I love when Charles Barkley made the analogy of hey

(28:37) teachers are the real are the real you know people who aren’t failures like they’re the real success stories it’s not really professional athletes I mean yes we got to a certain point my father got to a certain point there’s many guys who got to that point but after the playing days are gone what’s the next step and so many of us athletes we understand that we know that but I think that needs to be talked about more just in society as yes this is a great game whether it’s football or basketball

(29:08) um but we need to start investing in education investing in the youth coming up because they’re going to be where we are in a few years Sean Birdsong you are a wise Soul we want to send our audience again to American Dash ballers.com to check out what their non-profit is doing helping youth use sports but learn those life lessons thank you so much for sharing thank you I appreciate you for having me on and you’re doing great things in the you know Community as well I got a chance to be with you um at the 120th celebration

(29:45) um at JFS uh you know a while back so you got you guys you know keep up the great work and I appreciate you having me you betcha thank you for joining us on KC cares Kansas City’s nonprofit voice we’re produced by charitable Communications also a non-profit this KC cares segment was brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation www.kauffman.

(30:07) org well to be a guest on KC cares find all of our episodes visit our website kckersonline.org spread the love you can find us on Facebook and Twitter at KC cares radio and Instagram or at KC cares online and catch us Saturday mornings on ESPN 15 10 a.m and 94.5 FM at 8 A.M thanks for joining us on KC cares [Music]