Bethel Grad Named Assistant General Manager of Brooklyn Nets

From Bethel to jobs with the San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, and now Brooklyn Nets, Andy Birdsong ’09 says each stop on his journey has furthered his drive to use his time focusing on people and bettering others.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

June 28, 2019 | 10 a.m.

Andy Birdsong ’09

In April, Andy Birdsong ’09 spoke to Bethel business and economics students about his journey from Bethel to the front offices of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks. Birdsong recently took a position as assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets.

When Andy Birdsong ’09 attended Minnesota Timberwolves games as a child, he noticed the men sitting courtside wearing suits. “I wonder what they do,” he remembers thinking. “I want to do that.” Today he does. But he’s not courtside; he’s in the front office. Birdsong recently started as assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets, the latest step in a successful NBA career that’s included two stints in the San Antonio Spurs’ front office and time with the Atlanta Hawks.

As he looks to help the Nets grow, Birdsong is bringing values he honed in Bethel’s football program, where Head Coach Steve Johnson stressed culture and fit while building a team. Birdsong says Johnson and his staff recruited young men who are about something bigger than themselves, who want to work hard, dedicate themselves to others, and improve as much as possible. “Whether it be with the Nets or another place, those ideals remain constant. People are what matters,” Birdsong says.

Birdsong’s ties to Bethel run deep, as he attended Bethel basketball camps as a child. But Birdsong, a Wayzata native, didn’t initially plan on attending Bethel. He planned to attend college outside Minnesota, but health issues during his senior year of high school caused doctors to urge him to stay closer to home. He came to Bethel, intending to transfer after his first year, but his experience on campus changed his mind. “I ended up meeting a group of people that changed my life,” he says. Birdsong stayed and joined the football team to be with his friends. “Those decisions marked my life in a way that defines who I am and what I’m able to do in every way,” he says.
Andy Birdsong ’09

Andy Birdsong ’09 talks about what it was like working with the San Antonio Spurs and renowned Head Coach Greg Popovich, whom he describes as intense but a great coach to work with. He noted Spurs leaders are marked by humility, care and compassion for others, and commitment to excellence—all things he hopes to take to his new role as assistant general manager for the Brooklyn Nets.

When he neared graduation, Birdsong, a business major, faced two paths. He could pursue his dream of a basketball-related career at the highest level, or he could work at a financial firm. “I’d interviewed with a couple financial companies in town just as backups, but I knew I didn’t want to do that. I knew I wanted to take this basketball thing as far as I could take it,” he says.

Birdsong took a chance. He drove from Bethel’s Arden Hills, Minnesota, campus to Detroit during the Final Four to meet with Florida State University Head Coach Leonard Hamilton about a position. But he wasn’t able to meet with Hamilton, who was busy working through a number of things. Birdsong returned to Bethel without meeting him, but to his surprise, he received a call a few weeks later offering him a graduate assistant position. When he accepted the position, he had still never met Hamilton, but he’d developed a close relationship with people on his staff. At Florida State, Birdsong earned a master’s in sports management.

Though following his dreams, the early days weren’t glamorous. Birdsong admits his career has included many tough decisions and moves, and it’s required perseverance. But he followed his dreams instead of following the money, as his early jobs were not high-paying. But his career progressed, and he built relationships and worked hard. Birdsong started as a basketball operations intern with Spurs in 2011, and he joined the Atlanta Hawks as manager of basketball operations in 2012. He returned to the Spurs in 2015 as director of basketball operations and was promoted to director of professional player personnel and general manager of the Austin Spurs, the team’s minor league affiliate in the NBA’s G league.

Birdsong is settling into his role with the Nets and is helping the team navigate free agency. He had a hand in the recent NBA draft, and he’s excited to join the Nets and contribute to their current growth and success.

Birdsong admits it was an emotional decision to leave the Spurs, where he says the people are like family. But he’s taken many lessons with him. The Spurs highly value character and seek players and support staff who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Spurs Coach Greg Popovich commonly quotes “Pound the Rock,” referring to a stone cutter who knows it’s not the last hit that breaks the rock, it’s everything that leads to it. Birdsong says players like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili embodied the Spurs’ values.

“Culture” is a buzzword in sports, as teams strive to create a winning culture. But to Birdsong, it means one thing: Are your values lived out? He praised Bethel’s football program and coach Johnson because the team’s values paved the way for everything in the program. “The reason they have success is because the values they live by create a culture that allows them to have success,” he says.

From Bethel to the Spurs, Birdsong says each stop on his journey further established his belief in focusing on people and doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not to make money, gain power, or further oneself. “People matter,” he says. “You can replicate systems, you can replicate processes, but developing the heart in which you do the work is the difference.”

Much like Johnson instilled in him as a player at Bethel, Birdsong says the most important part of his job is helping position others for success.

What I view my position and role as is being a runway. You want people to be able to come land softly on it, and you want people to be able to take off fast from it.

— Andy Birdsong '09, assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets

Birdsong speaks highly of his Bethel education and the Department of Business and Economics and he urges people who want to work in sports to major in business. “All the business principles and everything you learn, it diversifies you in a way that you are ready for anything,” he says. And he calls his broad business base beneficial since he works in an industry of high stakes and frequent turnover.

Birdsong admits the job requires dedication and sacrifice. It takes time away from his wife, Megan, and son, Ace, and he rarely makes it home for holidays with family in Minnesota. But his family and close friends sustain their bonds through their constant love, support, and encouragement from afar. Birdsong relies on his faith to navigate the volatile, high-stress environment of the NBA. His quiet time consists of listening to sermons from Passion City Church, his home church in Atlanta. And growing up, his mother pushed the positive impact of worship music, so now he listens to it daily as he works out.

He strives to keep his goals focused on others, on helping those around him improve. “It’s not to go be a GM; that’s not the goal,” he says. “The goal is to leverage influence in order to help and better others.”

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