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Report: East Chicago native Junior Bridgeman bidding for Sports Illustrated

East Chicago native Ulysses "Junior" Bridgeman is making a bid for Sports Illustrated, according to a report by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Sports Illustrated stands as an American icon known for stunning action photography, unforgettable covers, Frank Deford feature stories, the annual Sportsperson of the Year award, the Swimsuit Issue, a place in seemingly every waiting room in the country, and, of course, the promotional football phone if you subscribe now.

An East Chicago native hopes to own the vaunted magazine, a chronicler of athletic feats for more than six decades that Iowa-based parent company Meredith Corp. has put up for sale.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Junior Bridgeman, a member of the undefeated 29-0 state champion 1971 East Chicago Washington High School basketball team who went on to play for the University of Louisville and the Milwaukee Bucks, has put in a bid for Sports Illustrated.

“It’s an iconic brand,” Bridgeman told Kentucky's largest newspaper. “The next part of our analysis is there are other things, other areas that we can go. ... (But) In this world, you can’t be overly optimistic.”

Bridgeman had a successful 12-year career in the National Basketball Association as a sixth man who averaged 13.6 points per game, played in more games than anyone else in Bucks history and had his No. 2 jersey retired by the team.

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In retirement, Bridgeman built a vast restaurant empire with more than 450 franchises, including Wendy's, Chili's, Fazoli's, Perkin's, Golden Corral and Blaze Pizza and runs Heartland Coca-Cola, an independent Coca-Cola bottler with 18 regional distribution centers. Forbes Magazine has declared him as one of the highest-paid retired athletes in the country, and The Richest website estimates his net worth is at least $600 million. 

The former Washington Senator, whose championship run in high school was recently depicted in the "We Are EC: The Untold Story of East Chicago Basketball" documentary, is one of many reported suitors for Sports Illustrated, including big names like the owner of the National Enquirer, a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, motivational speaker Tony Robbins and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

Meredith Corp. estimates the venerable magazine, which helped define moments such as the United States' 1980 "Miracle on Ice" upset over the Soviet Union in hockey and the Dream Team's epic Olympic run in basketball, now reaches 17 million monthly readers. SI.com boasts 207 million monthly page views, and the publication has 9.7 million Facebook followers, 3.7 million Twitter followers and 2.7 million Instagram followers.

Efforts to reach Bridgeman at his companies, Manna Inc. and Heartland Coca-Cola, were unsuccessful.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.