The name Junior Bridgeman might ring a bell with some. After drafting eighth in the 1975 NBA Draft, he was one of the guys the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Although Bridgeman had a decent 12-year NBA career, he didn’t necessarily make a name for himself because of basketball. Rather, it was his enterprising 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 wealth
Bridgeman’s entrepreneurial chops were somehow honed by his stint as president of the National Basketball Players Association. Here he learned the art of listening and negotiation.
These were important skills that he had to use and develop early on. He served as a bridge between the players and team owners. Both parties do not always agree on matters and do not speak the same language. And so Bridgeman’s brokering exposed him to different perspectives and thus a broader world view.
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 football is a temporary pursuit, prompted the former Bucks forward to buy a Wendy’s franchise in Milwaukee. After hanging up his jersey for good in 1987, he already owned three Wendy’s franchises. In 2016, the former Bucks swingman already had more than 200 Wendy’s franchises and 100 Chili’s franchises in the US.
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The goal of any business is profit. This is the measure of their success. There are several ways to achieve this goal. Some are cutting costs. Others make all kinds of adjustments to make the supply chain smoother. For Bridgeman, he increased his net worth to millions by focusing on the people he works with and those he serves.
“It’s about helping other people improve their lives. That’s what the driving target is,Bridgeman says, according to BizTimes.
His business philosophy is a lot like an inverted pyramid. He considers himself the “least important person” in the company. In his eyes, those who run the day-to-day operations are critical. Bridgeman’s role, in his own words, is figuring out”how they can make what they do better, easier and more fun.”
With regard to customers, Bridgeman makes it a point to engage with them. He has important conversations with mayors, aldermen and women and local companies. He also makes it a point to talk to smaller communities as well.
He sold his Wendy’s and Chilli’s franchises in 2016 to become an independent bottler for Coca-Cola. Although it’s a different industry, Bridgeman’s focus is still on the people: “It’s not what Coca-Cola Heartland can do, it’s what they can do with our help.”
The NBA is full of great stories about teams, coaches, and players. It is foolish to label Bridgeman as one of the trading 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 his business sense after basketball and proved that he is more than just an athlete. He is someone who wants and can make a dent in the galaxy through business.