How ex-NBA player Junior Bridgeman built his Wendy restaurant empire with US$350k

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Bridgeman became Wendy’s largest franchise owner, with over 160 restaurants & 120 Chili’s restaurants across America

Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman, a NBA player from from 1975 to 1987 is living proof that investing in assets in your playing days can bring you a fortune when your playing days are over.

Bridgeman is also the current owner of Ebony and Jet magazines.

And despite never making more than $350,000 a season during his NBA career, Bridgeman has a net worth of over $600 million today, making him one of the wealthiest former athletes in the world.

Indeed, during his playing days, Bridgeman wasn’t necessarily the best player. And he wasn’t the highest-paid player for sure.

If-fact his highest salary was about $350,000 per year.

Bridgeman knew his playing money wouldn’t last forever and knew the odds would be against him.

Further he was aware that his name may not attract sponsorships and endorsements.

So Bridgeman used the money he was making as a player and started investing it in real assets.

He invested in a Wendy’s franchise.

And to learn the business model, he even spent a lot of time working at a local Wendy’s.

But buy the time he retired, Bridgeman had 3 restaurants.

Today, he’s Wendy’s largest franchise owner, with over 160 restaurants. Plus an additional 120 Chili’s restaurants across the United States.

Now, at age 68, Bridgeman is worth $600 million.

Bridgeman was born in East Chicago, Indiana on 17 September 1953.

According to records, he was a member of the 1971 Washington High School Senators basketball team, which went undefeated (29–0) and won the Indiana state high school basketball championship.

Among his teammates were his brother Sam, Pete Trgovich (who played at UCLA) and Tim Stoddard (N.C. State), who would go on to have success as a Major League Baseball pitcher.

A 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) tall guard/forward, Bridgeman attended the University of Louisville, playing under Coach Denny Crum.

Bridgeman was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 1974 and 1975.

Then Bridgeman led the Louisville Cardinals to the 1974 NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament as a junior.

As a senior, Bridgeman led the Cardinals to the Final Four of the 1975 NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament, where they lost the eventual NCAA Champion UCLA 75–74 in the National Semi-Final.

In his collegiate career at Louisville, Bridgeman averaged 15.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 87 career games.

Bridgeman was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1975 NBA draft in the 1st Round (#8 overall pick).

On June 16, 1975, almost three weeks after the draft, Bridgeman was involved in a landmark trade.

He was traded by the Los Angeles Lakers with David Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters to the Milwaukee Bucks for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley.

As a rookie with Milwaukee in 1975–1976 under coach Larry Costello, Bridgeman averaged 8.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

In 1976–1977, Costello was fired by Milwaukee after a 3–15 start and assistant coach Don Nelson, who had been a player for the 1976 NBA champion Boston Celtics the year before, was hired as coach.

Bridgeman improved, averaging 14.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

On December 15, 1976, Bridgeman scored a career-high 41 points in a 129–125 loss against Boston.

Nelson and Bridgeman would remain together for the next eight seasons.

Bridgeman was utilized by coach Nelson as a complement to teammates Bob Dandridge, Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Bob Lanier, Quinn Buckner, Myers, Winters and Mickey Johnson during his Milwaukee tenure, as the Bucks had powerful teams, winning several division titles (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984).

And on April 5, 1981, Bridgeman scored a career playoff-high 32 points and recorded 6 assists in a Game 1 Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

After nine seasons in Milwaukee, on September 29, 1984, Bridgeman was traded by the Milwaukee Bucks with Harvey Catchings, Marques Johnson and cash to the Los Angeles Clippers for Terry Cummings, Craig Hodges and Ricky Pierce.

On January 29, 1985, Bridgeman scored 30 points in a loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And after spending two years in Los Angeles, Bridgeman returned to Milwaukee for one more season before retiring in 1987.

He played in 711 games for the Bucks, still the most in franchise history.

In his 12-year NBA career, Bridgeman scored 11,517 total points.

He was a sixth man for most of his career, averaging double figures in scoring for nine consecutive seasons.

Some believe that if the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award was created before the 1982–83 season, Bridgeman may have won it multiple times.

Furthermore, in his career with the Milwaukee Bucks (1975–1984, 1986–1987) and the Los Angeles Clippers (1984–1986), Bridgeman played in 849 total NBA games, averaging 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists, shooting 47% from the floor and 84% from the line.

Bridgeman also served as the president of the National Basketball Players association from 1985 to 1988.

Bridgeman resigned after the 1988 CBA and the controversy of the Junior Bridgeman antitrust lawsuit, which NBA players indicted the NBA of violation of antitrust laws by compensating to eschew from matching offers for free agents and abuse of the salary cap that lead to a decreased of the total players’ gross revenues from 61 percent to 54 percent from the 1983–84 season.

During the off-seasons of his playing career, Bridgeman worked and learned the business model of Wendy’s fast food restaurant franchise.

After retiring from the NBA, he invested fulltime in the Wendy franchise and eventually owned over 100 various Wendy’s and Chili’s restaurants, before selling in 2016.

As President and CEO of Bridgeman Foods Inc, in 2017, Bridgeman became a bottler for The Coca-Cola Company, and in 2018, he signed a letter of intent to buy bottling operations in Canada.

In December 2020, Bridgeman, via Bridgeman Sports and Media, bought Ebony and Jet for $14 million after the magazines had declared bankruptcy earlier in the year.

In 2008, the PGA of America appointed Bridgeman to serve on the PGA Board of Directors.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame appointed Bridgeman to the board of governors in 2010.

In 2012, Churchill Downs Inc. appointed Bridgeman to the company’s board of directors.

An in 2016–2017 Bridgeman was appointed and served on the University of Louisville Board of Trustees.

Bridgeman is also a key member of the Simmons College of Kentucky Board of Trustees.

Bridgeman has been honored numerous times at Bucks games since his retirement, and makes regular appearances at Bucks games for bobblehead nights and autograph signings during charity donation-drive events.

Bridgeman is a member of the Louisville megachurch Southeast Christian Church.

In 2016, Forbes ranked Bridgeman the fourth-wealthiest retired athlete in the world behind only Michael Jordan, David Beckham and Arnold Palmer with an estimated income of $32 million.

On the Bucks’ appearance in the 2021 NBA Finals, and recalling his Bucks teams repeated Eastern Conference Finals losses, Bridgeman said, “You know, we all wore the same jersey at some point in time.

So, you feel a relationship there and you know, so much admiration for the guys that are able to get to the Finals. You know, that was our dream of ours and unfortunately, we ran into a couple of guys in Boston and Philly at the time, but they’ve been able to do it and just wishing them all the luck in the world.”

In 1999, Bridgeman was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame;

Bridgeman was inducted into the University of Louisville College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2007;

In 2009, Bridgeman was inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame;

In 2014, Bridgeman was inducted into the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame;

In 2019, Bridgeman received the Gold Cup award from Greater Louisville Inc. in honor of his business contributions and community involvement;

In 1988 Bridgeman’s no. 2 jersey was retired by the Milwaukee Bucks.

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