Former NBA baller Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman may be most known for his time as an NBA player in the 70s and 80s with the Milwaukee Bucks. He had a solid 12-year career in the league playing most of it in “Cream City”, where they retired his No. 2 jersey in 1988.
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Bridgeman was originally drafted to the Los Angeles Lakers but was shipped to the Bucks in the blockbuster Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trade. Bridgeman came off the bench for most of his career but was able to average 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game. Bridgeman made about $350,000 in his final season, but that was before one supermax contract could set a player up for life.
Bridgeman always had a pension for business and during the NBA off-season, he would study and learn the business model of Wendy’s fast-food restaurant franchise.
Following his retirement from the NBA, he invested in the franchise and eventually became the owner of over 160 Wendy’s and 120 Chili’s restaurants before cashing out in 2016. Today, his net worth is estimated to be around $600 million.
.As the President and CEO of Bridgeman Foods Inc, in 2017 he landed a deal to become the official bottler for The Coca-Cola Company. He didn’t stop there as in 2018 he signed a letter of intent to buy bottling operations in Canada.
Bridgeman is a living example of how an athlete utilizes the benefits of his physical talents to forge a greater existence, make connections, and expand their economic potential. His NBA career was formidable and provided him the financial foundation to become an all-star player in the business world.
His latest venture is adding the famed Ebony magazine to his incredible portfolio.
With Bridgeman Sports and Media, a company also owned by the retired Bucks player, he was awarded the successful bid to buy the bankrupt Ebony Media assets which also houses the legendary magazine. He believes he can return the magazine to profitability with the right ideas and the right folks to execute those ideas.
Ebony spent the first 72 years (1945-2017) of existence in Chicago, Bridgeman a native of East Chicago, Indiana grew up roughly 30 miles from “ChiTown” and believes the magazine can return to its glory days on the “Chicago River”. The magazine was launched as an influential monthly lifestyle magazine that documented the African-American experience for better than seven decades.
The magazine was too slow in adopting an advanced digital platform in a fast-changing media world. Add the digital shift to the proliferation of on-line culture, sports, and entertainment publications and Ebony found itself standing in a crowded parking lot, swimming in debt with no clear vision for the future.
This deal to buy Ebony is just the latest chapter in Bridgeman’s post-basketball entrepreneurial career. He also attempted to buy Sports Illustrated in 2019, but subsequently stopped his efforts and it was sold for $110M to Authentic Brands Group.
Throughout its lengthy run, Ebony has stood for Black excellence, showing people doing positive things that in many cases benefited everyone.
The magazine is vital to Black culture and during its run it even had reporters and photographers follow the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to the 1965 Selma march, with the magazine’s coverage culminating in the civil rights leader’s funeral in 1968.
Junior Bridgeman is “Black Excellence” at its core and he should be honored as such. He’s a blueprint on how pro athletes transition to life after basketball. He’s a role model and beacon of light for the entire Black community.