Jake's Take: 9/10/10

September 10, 2010
Jake LeRoy

In Retrospect: Junior Bridgeman

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  • Not all athletes are created equal. Take me and Brandon Jennings for example. We're on completely different levels. One of us once scored 55 points in a single game. The other once scored 55 points throughout their entire middle school basketball career. Give, but more likely take a point, or 20.

    Most people think that what differentiates athletes from one another is what they do on the court. I'm of the belief that what an athlete does off the court differentiates them from their peers just as much as their on-court accomplishments. There are plenty of professional athletes who put together fine 12-year careers and then ride off into the sunset never to be heard from again. There are a significantly fewer amount who put together solid NBA careers, and then give back to the league that employed them and the community that cherished them. One of those few is former Milwaukee Buck Ulysses Lee Bridgeman, better known as ... Junior.

    Earlier this summer I wrote that I wanted a better overall grasp on Bucks history, especially the players and teams that came before my original birthday. So I dove into the career of Sidney Moncrief, and that just whetted my appetite for the Bucks that were. I knew a little of Bridgeman and I saw his No. 2 hanging from the Bradley Center rafters, but I felt more digging was necessary. What I uncovered was a player who helped define the role of a Sixth Man before the term was even in the lexicon of today's basketball fan. What I also uncovered was a former player who never stopped giving back to the NBA and the city of Milwaukee.

    We'll start with Bridgeman's on-court career. After a distinguished four-year career as a Louisville Cardinal, Bridgeman was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers as the eighth overall pick in the 1975 NBA Draft. His stay in Hollywood was short-lived as he was quickly shipped off to Milwaukee in the most famous trade in franchise history. Bridgeman, along with Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Elmore Smith was exchanged for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley in a trade that would reshape both franchises.

    Bridgeman worked his way into the Bucks rotation during his rookie campaign, averaging 8.6 points in just 20.3 minutes per game. He wouldn't dip below 12 points per game for the next nine seasons despite routinely coming off the bench and never averaging more than 30 minutes per contest. He led all subs with 15.5 points per game during the 1978-79 season and would average 17.6 and 16.8 points per game in the following two seasons. Bridgeman played the role of designated scorer off the bench to perfection, a role that Corey Maggette has played before and could potentially inhabit again this season. Just like Moncrief was a driving force behind the development of the Defensive Player of the Year Award, an argument can be made that Bridgeman did the same for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

    Bridgeman continued to pour in points off the Milwaukee bench through the 1983-84 season before being traded to the Clippers for a brief two-year stay back out in Los Angeles. Milwaukee wasn't done with Bridgeman yet, and he certainly wasn't done with Milwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1986 for his last hurrah, retiring as the franchise's all-time leader with 711 games played, a record that will stand for the foreseeable future. For his career, Bridgeman posted modest averages of 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just 25 minutes per game.

    His playing career consisted of more than just filling up the stat sheet, though. Bridgeman was a player representative with the NBA Players Association for 11 years, helping develop programs that enabled players to get a head start on their post-career alternatives. Of his 11 years in the association, he served four years as president and another three as treasurer. After such a successful playing career, it would surprise no one if a player of Bridgeman's stature simply took the easy road from there on out. But Bridgeman isn't your average former professional athlete.

    Just a year into his NBA retirement, Bridgeman established Bridgeman Foods, Inc., which remains located in Oak Creek to do this day. Manna Inc. and ERJ Dining, Inc. were later established as ventures of Bridgeman Foods and combined have opened over 275 Wendy's and Chili's Restaurants and employed approximately 12,000 people nationwide, including many in the Greater Milwaukee Area.

    Bridgeman's personal off-court successes have allowed him to give back to the city that he called home for so many years. He has been active in fund-raising efforts for diabetes, cancer and underprivileged children. Bridgeman has also been a supporter of the Bucks MACC Fund Game since its inception in 1977 and was presented with the Don Contardi Commitment Award in 2009, which goes to a person committed to the fight against childhood cancer.

    With stories about guys like Antoine Walker shimmying away their money popping up on a seemingly weekly basis, it's refreshing to read about players like Bridgeman. It's too rare of an occasion to know of a professional athlete who's having a positive effect away from the court or field, and Milwaukee has been fortunate enough to have someone like Bridgeman in its own back yard for so long.

    Not all NBA players are created equal. Every NBA player, current or former, can hit an 18-footer. But it takes a unique breed of NBA player to have the kind of on- and off-court impact that Bridgeman has enjoyed. That No. 2 could be hanging from the rafters whether he averaged 4 points per game, or 24 points per game.

    Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.