Ulysses Lee Bridgeman: From $350k in NBA to a restaurant millionaire

by Duke Magazine
Image credit: blackenterprise.com

Ulysses Lee Bridgeman, popularly known as “Junior”, proceeded from NBA to becoming a highly successful fast food businessman with a net worth of over $600 million. He retired from the NBA in 1987 and then built a fast-food empire.

A native of East Chicago, Indiana, Bridgeman attended the University of Louisville, Kentucky from where he had a successful basketball career. As a Louisville Cardinal, he led his team to two NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four in 1975, and after which got drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.

He was said to be one of the best sixth men in the league during the late ’70s and early ’80s, where his average points per game off the bench was 13.6, according to Forbes. For the 12 years which he played in the NBA, he scored 11,517 career points, playing mostly with the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was also reported that 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 finishing point of his career.

With his seldom coming off bench, Bridgeman was the second on the Bucks scoring between 1979-80. In that season, 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 got retired by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1988.

Image credit: Dick Raphael/ NBAE via Getty images

Bridgeman’s highest salary in the NBA was $350,000 in 1985, and with that amount, he invested into a buoyant lucrative business. 

After his retirement, Bridgeman bought Wendy’s location in Milwaukee, and he went on to buy a few more.

Fortunately, Bridgeman owned 160 Wendy’s locations and 120 Chili’s locations. He became a franchisee of Fazoli’s and Blaze Pizza at the same time. 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 established a Louisville-based company “Manna Inc.” under which is the umbrella company of all his subsidiary companies. He later drove the company to becoming a fast food conglomerate 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. Bridgeman currently sits on the chair of the president and CEO of Coca-Cola Heartland Bottling Company, which turns in an approximate of $650 million in revenue today. Bridgeman unsuccessfully had a bid to purchase Sports Illustrated from its parent company in 2018.

He has become legendary in the restaurant franchise business. In January this year, Central Bank Chairman, President and CEO Luther Deaton Jr. officially announced the election of Bridgeman to the Central Bancshares board of directors.

Bridgeman was considered to be 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.

Being an active member of the Louisville community, Bridgeman has been able to support the birth of several basketball camps, and a Louisville boys’ school for children that were homeless. He currently sits on the board of the PGA, and was recently honored with the Gold Cup award by Greater Louisville Inc.

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