Ulysses Lee Bridgeman, generally known as “Junior”, went from NBA to becoming a highly successful fast food entrepreneur with a net worth of over $600 million. He retired from the NBA in 1987 and built a fast-food empire.
A native of East Chicago, Indiana, Bridgeman came to Kentucky to attend the University of Louisville, where he celebrated a successful basketball career. As a Louisville Cardinal, he led his team to two NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four in 1975 after which he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was reportedly one of the best sixth men in the league during the late ’70s and early ’80s averaging 13.6 points per game off the bench, according to Forbes. For the 12 years he played in the NBA, he scored 11,517 career points playing mostly with the Milwaukee Bucks.
According to reports, he holds the Bucks’ franchise record for games played with 711, but he only started in 105. Bridgeman went on to play a two-year stint with the LA Clippers at the tail end of his career.
Although he mostly came off the bench, in 1979-80 Bridgeman was reportedly second on the Bucks in scoring. He scored a career-high 17.6 points per game that season and led Milwaukee to a 49-33 record. Bridgeman’s number 2 jersey was retired by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1988.
Bridgeman’s highest salary in the NBA was $350,000 in 1985 and with that same amount, he invested into a far more lucrative business. After retirement, Bridgeman purchased Wendy’s location in Milwaukee. He went on to buy a few more.
Eventually, Bridgeman owned 160 Wendy’s locations and 120 Chili’s locations. He became a franchisee of Fazoli’s and Blaze Pizza as well. According to a 2014 report, a search of the Kentucky Secretary of State website lists Bridgeman as a member, sole officer, president, director and chairman of 36 active organizations.
The former sixth man founded a Louisville-based company, Manna Inc. under which all his subsidiaries operate. He grew the company into a fast food empire employing 11,000 people and generates over $500 million each year in revenue. For reasons unknown, many have come to call his company, Bridgeman Foods. “Everyone started calling it Bridgeman Foods, but there never really was a Bridgeman Foods company,” he said.
In 2017, he became the official bottler of The Coca-Cola Company. He’s currently the president and CEO of Coca-Cola Heartland Bottling Company, which makes approximately $650 million in revenue today. Bridgeman unsuccessfully bid to purchase Sports Illustrated from its parent company in 2018.
He’s been a Hall of Famer in the restaurant franchise business. In January this year, Central Bank Chairman, President and CEO Luther Deaton Jr. announced Bridgeman’s election to the Central Bancshares board of directors.
Bridgeman is one of the richest athletes in the world as of 2016. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Bridgeman’s current net worth stands at $600 million making him the fifth-richest former athlete in the world.
As an active member of the Louisville community, Bridgeman has supported the founding of several basketball camps and a Louisville boys’ school for children that were homeless and he sits on the board of the PGA. He was recently honoured with the Gold Cup award by Greater Louisville Inc.