Instead of going broke, Junior Bridgeman built a $400 million fast food empire

Pop quiz #1: In 1975, which newly drafted player did the Lakers trade away to acquire superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? If you guessed Junior Bridgeman, you are correct.

Pop quiz #2: As of April 2014, who is the second largest owner of Wendy’s franchises in America? Once again, the correct answer is… Junior Bridgeman. As an NBA player, Junior Bridgeman had a moderately successful 12-year career playing for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers. To be completely honest, his NBA career was kind of unremarkable. So why are we writing about him on Celebrity Net Worth?

Well, as you may know, retirement can be a very painful experience for many NBA players. According to a study conducted by Sports Illustrated, a staggering 60% of NBA players are completely broke within five years of retiring. Junior Bridgeman did not go down this route. Instead, Junior Bridgeman is a shining light of inspiration. A man who every athlete should admire and study…

Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman was born on September 17, 1953 in East Chicago, Indiana. His father was a blue collar steel mill worker – a very common job in East Chicago during the era in which Junior Bridgeman grew up. He was a member of the undefeated (29-0) 1971 East Chicago Washington High School Senators basketball team that won the Indiana state high school basketball championship. His teammates included his brother Sam, Pete Trgovich, who went on to play at UCLA; and Tim Stoddard who would become a Major League Baseball pitcher.

At 6’5″ Bridgeman played guard and forward during college at the University of Louisville, where he was also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Junior Bridgeman was drafted with the 8th overall pick in the first round of the 1975 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, and, as mentioned, was then immediately traded to the Milwaukee Bucks forKareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In his 12-year NBA career (10 with Milwaukee, two with the Clippers), Bridgeman was mostly a sixth man. For nine consecutive seasons he averaged double figures in scoring. He holds the Milwaukee franchise record for number of games played at 711, though he only started in 105 of those games.

Bridgeman was a good basketball player, solid and steady. His professional career lasted from 1975 to 1987, in the era just before players were paid crazy amounts of money. Players like Michael Jordanand Magic Johnson made the bulk of their money from endorsement deals, but still made a lot of money in the NBA – close to $100 million for Jordan. Bridgeman never saw anywhere close to that kind of money during his NBA days. His peak salary was $350,000 from the Clippers in 1985.

Unlike most athletes, Junior was quick to realize that his window of time in the NBA would be relatively short. At some point the paychecks would stop coming in and he would need to find a new source of steady income. So, on a whim, Junior decided to purchase a franchise of his favorite fast food restaurant: Wendy’s. While other NBA players hung out during the off season doing God knows what, Bridgeman was working in local Wendy’s—learning his burgeoning business from every angle and building a foundation for the rest of his and his family’s lives. By the time his playing days were over, Junior owned three Wendy’s.

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