Spotlight On: Junior Bridgeman
One of the ultimate compliments an athlete can receive is having his jersey number retired. Back when players stayed on the same team for long stretches of time, teams and fans viewed them as family. It was normal for athletes to live in modest homes in the cities they played and they were often involved in their respective communities - not for marketing purposes like today’s athletes - but because they actually lived there.
This created some special bonds between player, franchise, and fans - especially with the Milwaukee Bucks from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. One of the more famous players was not a regular starter, but a sixth-man who generally finished as the second leading scorer on the team each year and he finished his career as having played the most games in franchise history. The player is Junior Bridgeman.
Bridgeman was one of the key pieces to the post - Jabbar era when he was traded (along with Brian Winters, Dave Meyers, and Elmore Smith. With new coach Don Nelson at the helm, the 1976-1987 Bucks went on an incredible run of winning seasons with Nelson’s innovative style. Bridgeman greatly benefited from the strong team-style of play Nelson incorporated as role players became more important as Nelson capitalized on each player’s skills.
Bridgeman (who’s first name is Ulysses) was not flashy and though he was good enough to start at the shooting guard or small forward position on most teams, he did not complain. His greater value was coming off the bench where he matched up favorable against the competition and typically was among the Bucks scoring leaders each season. This is how Don Nelson used Bridgeman for much of his career.
Then in 1984 he was traded. The Bucks fleeced the Los Angeles Clippers by getting Terry Cummings, Rickey Pierce, and Craig Hodges for Bridgeman, Marques Johnson, and Harvey Catchings, all of whom were just past their prime. A sellout at Milwaukee’s Mecca Arena greeted Junior Bridgeman’s return to Milwaukee in the 1986-87 season when the Bucks needed bench depth, they went back to their old friend. Bridgeman retired at the end of that season having played the most number of games by Milwaukee Buck, a record that still stands.
Today Bridgeman owns Bridgeman Foods, America’s second-largest Wendy’s franchise owner. He also owns 125 Chili’s restaurants, 45 Fannie May Chocolate stores, and scads of other retail franchises, most of them clustered in the upper Midwest, between corporate headquarters in Milwaukee and Louisville. His company has an estimated value upwards of $400 million. Not bad for a Sixth-Man.