Bridgeman Returns to Milwaukee
Junior Bridgeman played a franchise-record 711 regular-season games for the Milwaukee Bucks.
In 606 of those games, Bridgeman was not a starter.
He was, however, a finisher – one of the most clutch ones the Bucks have ever had.
Bridgeman, whose jersey No. 2 was retired by the Bucks on Jan. 17, 1988, will return to Milwaukee to be honored on Junior Bridgeman Bobblehead Night on Saturday. He will greet fans and sign autographs in the BMO Harris Bradley Center concourse from 6 to 6:30 p.m. for Bucks MVP ticket holders and from 6:30 to 7 p.m. for all ticketholders prior to the Bucks’ 7:30 p.m. game against the Brooklyn Nets.
He will also be recognized for his many contributions to the Bucks organization on and off the court during the game.
Bridgeman, who played for the Bucks from 1975 through 1984 and during the 1986-87 season, ranks among Milwaukee’s all-time leaders in career points (seventh with 9,892), field goals (fifth with4,142), offensive rebounds (10th with 826), defensive rebounds (10th with 1,816) and steals (tied for ninth with 607).
Aside from Bridgeman’s many statistical achievements, he is arguably the most aptly named Bucks player of all time, because he was instrumental in building a bridge for the franchise when it desperately needed one.
And he did his part with class every step of the way.
Bridgeman, an All-American at the University of Louisville, was chosen with the eighth overall selection in the 1975 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded his draft rights and those to UCLA forward David Meyers – along with guard Brian Winters and center Elmore Smith – to the Bucks in exchange for centers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley.
The four new Bucks may not have realized it at the time, but they would help bridge the gap between the franchise’s first successful era and its second one.
"When we came, being a rookie, I know I really didn't understand the magnitude of the trade - being part of a trade for Kareem, who would go on to play a total of 20 years, and was arguably one of the best players of all time,” Bridgeman said in retrospect. “I don't think any of us comprehended that at the time, and in some ways that was good, because I don't think we really had the pressure that could have brought.
"All we wanted to do was just play in the league and do the best we could. I think we were fortunate that it wasn't just Brian Winters, Elmore Smith, Dave Meyers and myself, but all the players who were here and those who were added over the years. Most importantly, they formed a nucleus consisting not only of good players and a good team, but good people. I think that's really what brought about the connection between the community and the team.”
Bridgeman is grateful that several of the cornerstones of the Bucks’ 1971 NBA championship team were still around when he arrived in Milwaukee.
"I was very fortunate to play back then. I came in with people like Brian Winters and Dave Meyers and Elmore Smith, and we came to a team that had guys like Jon McGlocklin and Bobby Dandridge -- great players in their own right,” he said. “Everybody we had gave their all every time they went on the floor, and I'm one that believes that if Dave Meyers had not gotten hurt and retired, we would have won a championship or two or three. I thought that with him and the people we had, we would have had a team that would have been able to compete with anyone in the league."
As it was, the Bucks won the Midwest Division in Bridgeman’s rookie season, during which he averaged 8.6 points a game.
The 6-foot-5-inch sharpshooter began to carve out a niche as one of the NBA’s premier sixth men and one of the most clutch shooters of his era.
During the 10 seasons Bridgeman spent wearing a Bucks uniform, he was rarely in their lineup when games started, but almost always on the floor when they ended – and quite often playing a prominent role in winning performances.
In the 1979-80 season, Milwaukee won its first of seven consecutive Central Division championships under the direction of Head Coach Don Nelson. Bridgeman was a member of five of those teams.
"Over the years, they added Marques Johnson, Quinn Buckner, Sidney Moncrief, Bob Lanier and even Dave Cowens,” Bridgeman said. “If Dave Cowens hadn't hurt his knee (in 1982-83), there's no telling what we might have been able to accomplish that year.
"We had other guys, like Harvey Catchings, who were real good basketball players who just did what they were asked to do. That's what really made it a team. Sure, we had the All-Stars like Sidney and Brian and Marques and Lanier, but we also added Quinn, Mickey Johnson, Harvey Catchings, Ernie Grunfeld and so many others -- guys who filled a role."
Bridgeman was also a common denominator in many of the most prolific offensive performances in Milwaukee franchise annals.
He scored a game-high 25 points when the Bucks scored their most points ever in a regulation game during a 158-102 victory over the New Orleans Jazz on March 14, 1979. They lit it up for 87 points during the second half of that contest and placed a staggering nine players in double figures in the game: Bridgeman with 25 points, Marques Johnson with 23, Lloyd Walton with 20, Ernie Grunfeld with 18, George Johnson with 16, Kent Benson with 15, Brian Winters with 14, John Gianelli with 10 and Sam Smith with 10.
Bridgeman contributed 31 points on the night of March 6, 1982, when the Bucks lost a three-overtime marathon to the San Antonio Spurs 171-166. The teams combined for 75 points in the three overtime periods. Winters led Milwaukee with 42 points, while Lanier totaled 29. George “The Iceman” Gervin went off for 50 points, while Mike Mitchell added 45 for the Spurs.
These outbursts weren’t flashes in the pan, either, for the Bucks of the Bridgeman era.
They outlasted the New York Knicks for a 152-150 victory in three overtimes on Dec. 16, 1977. They topped 140 points four times during the 1978-79 campaign, winning each of those contests. And they rang up between 130 and 139 points during 25 other games in which Bridgeman played.
"What made it great was the fans,” Bridgeman recalled. “I remember it becoming so loud during the playoffs that you couldn't even hear yourself think in there. I remember the first row behind the bench was so close.
“'Nellie' would call a timeout and the guys would be sitting on the bench, and as he got ready to talk, you'd see the fans in the front row leaning over to hear exactly what he was going to say.
On many of those occasions, Nelson instructed his team to get the ball to No. 2.
More often than not, the result was two more points for the Milwaukee Bucks.