The name Junior Bridgeman might ring a bell to some. After being drafted eighth overall pick in the 1975 NBA Draft, he was one of the guys the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
While Bridgeman had a decent 12-year NBA career, he didn’t necessarily establish a name because of basketball. Rather, it was his entrepreneurial chops that catapulted him to fame. His highest single-season salary in the NBA was $350,000. Now, Bridgeman’s net worth is estimated at $600 million. This makes him the second-richest NBA player next to the GOAT, Michael Jordan, whose net worth is pegged at $1.7 billion. He’s probably the richest NBA player you’ve never heard of.
Roots of the riches
Bridgeman’s entrepreneurial chops were honed, in one way or another, through his stint as the National Basketball Players Association president. This was where he learned the art of listening and negotiation.
These were key skills he had to utilize and develop early on. He served as a bridge between the players and team owners. Both parties do not always agree on things, nor do they speak the same language. And so, Bridgeman’s middleman act exposed him to different perspectives and thus a broader worldview.
He also realized, through the owners, that the ultimate joy for them comes from “making and creating something successful.” This newfound knowledge, coupled with the realization that professional ball is a temporary pursuit, triggered the former Bucks forward to buy a Wendy’s franchise in Milwaukee. After hanging up his jersey for good in 1987, he already had three Wendy’s franchises. By 2016, the former Bucks swingman already had over 200 Wendy’s franchises and 100 Chili’s franchises across the US.
The goal of every business is profit. This is the benchmark for their success. There are various ways to reach this goal. Some cut costs. Others make all sorts of tweaks to make the supply chain smoother. For Bridgeman, he boosted his net worth to millions by focusing on the people he works with and those he is serving.
“It’s about helping other people better their lives. That’s what the driving goal is,” Bridgeman says, per BizTimes.
His business philosophy is pretty much like an inverted pyramid. He considers himself the “least important person” in the company. In his view, those who take care of everyday operations are critical. Bridgeman’s role, in his own words, involves figuring out “how to make what they do better, easier and fun.”
With regard to customers, Bridgeman makes it a point to connect with them. He holds vital discussions with city mayors, councilmen and women, and local businesses. He also makes it a point to converse with smaller communities as well.
He sold his Wendy’s and Chilli’s franchises in 2016 to become an independent bottler for Coca-Cola. While a different industry, Bridgeman’s focus is still on the people: “It’s not what can Coca-Cola Heartland do, but rather what can they do with our help.”
The NBA is full of great stories featuring teams, coaches, and players. It’s foolish to tag Bridgeman as simply one of the trade pieces the Lakers gave up to acquire Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Bridgeman proved his worth when he became a legitimate role player for the Bucks. Junior showed off his business acumen post-basketball, proving that he’s more than just an athlete. He’s someone who wants and can make a dent in the galaxy through business.