One Who Solidified the Bridge Between Pro Athletics & the Business World”
From a humble upbringing in the heart of the Midwest and amongst a diverse community with parents who truly had his best interest in mind, Junior Bridgeman has made a name for himself in a major way. He grew up in a blue collar community and was exposed to what true work ethic and discipline really meant. It didn’t take long for basketball coaches to take heed to Mr. Bridgeman’s skill set on the court, but what they couldn’t foresee is Junior’s desire to aid the communities he could touch. Personal character and professional ambition are not lacking in any way shape or form in Mr. Bridgeman’s vocabulary. He knows what it’s like to make something from nothing and has taken that ability from the basketball court into the business world. Bridgeman Foods LLC. is Junior’s extremely successful 25 year old business brainchild, but that’s not the only thing that motivates Mr. Bridgeman. There’s so much more to this athlete turned business guru, this article can only scratch the surface, but it’s definitely a story today’s athletes will want to learn from. From childhood to the high school gyms, to the NBA and onto conquering the business realm; Junior Bridgeman takes the world by storm!
Describe one your fondest moments growing up.
We grew up in an area where pretty much everybody worked at the steel mills. The three most important things for us growing up were going to church, getting an education and if you went out for any athletic team and made the team, even if you never had much of a chance to play you never quit. It’s hard to pick one moment, because it was just a good time and a good place to grow up in. As a kid, it’s beneficial to grow up around a variety of people. We had people in our community of Mexican descent, Puerto Rican, Serbian, Croatian, Italian, even Greek, because people from all over found work in the mills. It wasn’t until I went away to college and met people from all walks of life that I was truly able to appreciate my childhood.
Who do you feel served as the best positive influence on you early in life?
Without a doubt that would be my parents. I was fortunate enough to live in a two-parent household and they were the ones that laid the foundation and guidelines, and made sure you’d understand why certain things are done the way they are. I learned the difference between right and wrong, also realizing what’s really important in life.
Describe one of your fondest moments in the NBA aside from getting drafted.
After playing 12 years in the league, it would have to be the retirement ceremony when they retired my jersey and raised it up into the rafters of the Milwaukee Bucks arena (Bradley Center), because I spent most of my career as a sixth man coming off the bench. Even though we didn’t win a championship during my years in the league, the franchise retired my jersey based off my contribution to the team and to the surrounding communities.
You made mention of serving the community, so I ask how have you done so?
I’d participate as a team member in summer basketball camps for the kids and we’d pass out school supplies more so than just tee-shirts and basketballs. We wanted to emphasize the importance of education over sports. I also got involved in the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer. After all those events, charitable outings and speaking engagements at high schools and elementary schools, I think the people appreciate the assistance off the court more than the gutsy play on the court.
You were drafted in 1975, so I’m wondering what was the typical NBA rookie salary?
David Thompson was drafted #1 and if I recall correctly, he made $350-370k a year. If you got drafted with the 8th pick like I was, you’d make 100-150k a year.
With that being said, what financial advice would you give up and coming athletes who sign ridiculously huge rookie contracts?
It’s hard to tell any of them to live within their means, because they’re making so much money. That’s kind of an unrealistic thing to do. The thing they don’t seem to understand is that you’ll only play for so long. You might play anywhere from five to 15 years if you’re lucky and you should plan accordingly. You still have the rest of your life to live afterwards. After they walk away from the game, they should have a couple, or a few million set aside in the bank that they paid taxes on and which accumulated from all their years in the league. To be able to walk away with that type of money in the bank is a great blessing to have. That should be their goal, not how many cars, watches and boats they have, because none of that stuff is really important.
Who was your most influential basketball coach along your journey to the NBA?
That would probably be my high school coach. I was someone who didn’t get a chance to play a lot growing up. My high school coach would be at the gym all summer and I was there always working on my game. After we’d have our pick-up games in the afternoon, he noticed my effort and improvement, and would complement me. It’s amazing what words can do to really hurt someone, or at best help someone who desires to truly be the best player they can become.
What's your toughest challenge running Bridgeman Foods LLC, and how did you come across that business venture?
When I was done playing basketball, even though I liked the food industry, it wasn’t a thing where I always thought I’d be in the restaurant business as a franchisee. I was sitting with one of my friends who’s a banker and a couple of his clients happened to be in the restaurant business. My friend suggested that I get involved with them, because at that point I only had a year or two left in the NBA, so when I retired I would be able to make good money and not have to take the first job offered. I followed through and learned more about the business.
What was your educational emphasis while attending the Univ. of Louisville?
I was a Psychology major. Business is something that kind of came to me afterwards. Before I was drafted into the NBA I had plans of going to Law school, because I wasn’t sure if I’d have the opportunity to play pro basketball.
If you were Pres. Obama, what would be your main focus while in office for the betterment of most/all of the U.S.?
It would be two-fold. First, I’d try to eliminate the bi-partisanship. Secondly, my concern would be the jobs that are available. You have to produce higher paying jobs to really sustain the middle class. Most of the jobs created are by entrepreneurs, not just the big mammoth companies. We have to figure out a better way to find affordable jobs for people, or ways for them to start up more of their own companies.
What's the best personal advice you've received that you'd pass onto others?
You should never stop learning. You don’t always have to have a formal education with advanced degrees, but you have to be a lifelong learner. You also have to be willing to read and learn about and from other successful people in order to become a success in today’s world.
How do you want to be remembered when all is said and done?
The main thing is that you help somebody else and that your life wasn’t about how many things you’ve accomplished, or how much you own. If you can’t look back at your life and say you helped someone, then in all your years on this earth, what have you really done?
How would you describe yourself as a person, and how do you think others perceive you?
That’s a good question, because there are two sides to that. You know who you really are and then there’s the side you want to project for others to see. You can fool yourself into thinking you’re a certain type of person, but you’re really not. I would say that I’m the person who cares a lot about people. I don’t think I have a personality that’s overly caring like a Mother Teresa, but I want to see wrongs righted and see people do well.
Share a story from your rookie year.
Well, when I was in college the teams we followed were the Lakers and the Knicks. At the time, the Knicks were the big team and we heard all about Walt Frazier and his personal style. When I had a chance to play as a rookie in my first home game as a Buck, a teammate and I showed up in suits, shirts and ties, all decked out. Everybody else on the team showed up in their regular clothes, so it was kind of funny and embarrassing at the same time. They were like, “Where do you think you guys are going???” It was a clear sign that Milwaukee was not like New York.
What do you feel is Bridgeman Foods LLC’s greatest contribution?
After all these years being in business, I think the one thing we are most proud about is that a lot of people who come to work with us have worked their way up in the company’s ranks and enhanced their earning power to provide better things for their families. We started with five stores in Milwaukee about 25 years ago and employees, along with clientele have stuck with us through the years. We know we are doing something right and will continue doing so!
Article written by: Bill Oxford, 3-27-13
Courtesy of: Jacque Schauls and CODA GROOVES ENT
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