Ex-NBA player Junior Bridgeman, left, and Pistons guard Chauncey Billups own 30 Wendy's in St. Louis. (Public Relations News)
Auburn Hills — Imagine pulling up to a Wendy’s drive-thru and giving your order to “Mr. Big Shot.”
That’s possible if you go to one of 30 St. Louis area Wendy’s owned by Pistons guard Chauncey Billups and former NBA player Junior Bridgeman.
Bridgeman, whose net worth of $240 million exceeds that of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, has had a profound influence on Billups.
Not so much on the court as off it.
“I was in my prime, but I started thinking about what am I going to do (after basketball),” said Billups, who entered this season with hopes of being an everyday starter before “Father Time” started catching up. (He has played in 18 of 41 games, averaging 3.9 points and 2.2 assists.)
“I just don’t want to sit around and play golf all the time. I have to be involved in something and feel like I am being effective. That is just the way I am.”
Billups began thinking about life after basketball when he was 31. He earned his business degree from Colorado, and met Bridgeman during a charity basketball game in Denver. The two talked shop and formed a friendship.
Now, Billups has something to fall back on.
“I don’t put my name on anything I don’t know about,” Billups said. “I want to be able to go through all my stores and see what is out of place. What is going wrong? I want to know how they prepare sandwiches and walk around and make sure everybody is having a good experience.
“That is what I am learning how to do and I am going to do it better every time I go there.”
Billups said he plans to expand his business in Detroit and Denver.
“That is my dream,” Billups said. “At some point I want to expand my wings into here and there.”
But before any of that can happen, Billups is busy being a rookie — off the court.
And his mentor is Bridgeman, who played for the Bucks and Clippers from 1975-87.
“I am like an undrafted rookie,” Billups said. “It is like I’ve got no experience at all. But I am leaning on the best veteran in the league who can show me and teach me the game.
“I am basically putting all my faith in him and I am learning the business through him.”
Bridgeman said he is willing to steer athletes in the right direction, in part because he reads about how they give their body and soul to their game but don’t work on their financial stability.
He’s seen too many financial failures — boxers Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, and NBA players Scottie Pippen and Allen Iverson, for example, fell on hard times after earning millions during their playing days.
Bridgeman, mostly a sixth man when he played, has business savvy. He retured when he was 33 years old and now employs 11,500 employees under his corporation, Bridgeman Foods LLC.
“Hopefully the biggest part of your life is left when you retire,” said Bridgeman, 60. “Everybody can’t be a coach or a general manager. And maybe that is not what you want to do.
“But how do you transition your life? When you transition into the business world at age 35, many people already have a 10- to 15-year head start on you. How do you catch up and make the right decisions?”
The one thing that helps Billups is his personality.
“That helps,” he said. “I am able to relate with anybody and in all walks of life.”