Well, this is a coincidence, is it not? Things started off hot in installment number one with #1 himself, Oscar Robertson. Now, the Bucks Rafters Series continues with edition number two. Today, we take a look at an underrated Buck in #2 himself, Junior Bridgeman
Before The Bucks
Junior Bridgeman, a.k.a. Ulysses Lee Bridgeman, was born in 1953 in East Chicago, Indiana. He was a member of the Washington Senators (no, not those Washington Senators) while attending the city’s Washington High School. Along with a trio that included his brother and former pitcher Tim Stoddard, Bridgeman led the Senators to a 29-0 record and state championship in 1971.
Bridgeman would take his talents to the University of Louisville, where he would build on the success from his high school days. Louisville would make the tournament in both 1974 and 1975 behind the play of Bridgeman. Junior would earn MVC Player of the Year in each of those two seasons. This run included a Final Four run in 1975, losing a 75-74 thriller to eventual champions UCLA. The UCLA team included Pete Trgovich, a high school teammate of Bridgeman, as well as some guy named Marques Johnson. Bridgeman would average 15.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game throughout his career with the Cardinals.
How He Got Here
Bridgeman was not always a Buck, at least not quite. Selected 8th overall in 1975 by the Los Angeles Lakers, Bridgeman would experience a swift change of scenery. On June 16, he would be traded along with Elmore Smith, David Meyers, and Brian Winters to the Milwaukee Bucks for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bridgeman would get some solid shine as a rookie, averaging around nine points, four rebounds, and two assists per game in just over 20 minutes a night.
That rookie campaign, though, was nothing but a foreshadowing of things yet to come for Bridgeman, as he averaged 15.5 points a night ’76-’77 to ’80-’81. Particularly impressive about this run, though, is that he was likely coming off the bench primarily during this time period. I say likely as Basketball Reference does not recognize games started until the 1981-82 season. In his last three years as a Buck, Bridgeman topped out at ten starts in 1983-84.
This role, however, was perfect for Junior, as he formed a formidable duo at the small forward position with starter Marques Johnson. Those two, along with guards Paul Pressey and Sidney Moncrief, helped push Milwaukee into the second true era of their franchise’s history. Bridgeman would make the playoffs six times as a Buck, including four out of his last five seasons in his first run with the team.
Bridgeman would spend two seasons with the Clippers after being traded along with Marques Johnson for a return that included Ricky Pierce and Terry Cummings, though he would return to Milwaukee for his final season in 1986-87.
His #2 jersey would be retired by the team in 1988
After The Bucks
As impressive as Bridgeman’s on-court exploits may have been, his business ventures in retirement are just as much so. See, Junior Bridgeman spent a lot of time in his off-seasons as a player learning about the corporate world. He knew there was more to life than basketball after he was done.
Using this information, Bridgeman would quickly buck the notion of an athlete going broke after their playing days are done. He would own over 100 different Wendy’s and Chili’s locations before selling them in 2016, but he would not stop there. He quickly became a bottler for Coca-Cola as the CEO of his own food company, buying some Canadian bottling operations.
Bridgeman’s estimated net worth sits at $600 million dollars, making him the second-richest former NBA player behind Michael Jordan.
Two down, seven to go. Check out the next Bucks Rafter Series coming out soon for #3, Sidney Moncrief!