Former NBA player Junior Bridgeman buys ‘Ebony’ magazine for $14M

The former Milwaukee Bucks forward bought Ebony in US Bankruptcy Court this week

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It looks like Ebony magazine has a new shot at life. Retired NBA player turned successful entrepreneur Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman purchased the magazine in US Bankruptcy Court this week, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

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Once a pillar of Black business, founded by John H. Johnson in 1945, the magazine enjoyed decades of popularity before declining advertising revenues and the internet caused it to fall on hard times. In 2016, Ebony and its sister publication Jet was sold to the private equity fund CVG Group, out of Texas. But by 2018, Ebony had to settle an $80K lawsuit with dozens of freelancers who’d never received payment for contributions to the magazine and website, further damaging the brand.

Ebony Jet magazine Bridgeman
Items from the “gift bag” on display at the Ebony Magazine Oscar Party “Hollywood in Harlem” at the Crustacean Restaurant on February 24, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

By 2019, the magazine had ceased publication and its historic photography archive was put up for sale. The collection of four million photos was ultimately purchased jointly by four foundations that donated it to the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute, ensuring that it would be made available to the public, per the New York Times.

After defaulting on $10M in loans, in July, CVG Group was forced into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy ultimately converted to a Chapter 11 reorganization. Bridgeman was able to make a successful bid for the brands this week. Leonard Simon, a Houston attorney representing Ebony Media Group, says the sale is likely to be approved by Tuesday, per the Tribune.

NBA basketball legends (L-R) Junior Bridgeman and John Salley pose with Michael Strahan of the NFL’s New York Giants at the Muhammad Ali birthday celebration and VIP Reception during the events for the 133rd Kentucky Derby, May 4, 2007 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jeff Gentner/Getty Images)

Bridgeman, 67, who purchased Ebony and Jet through his Bridgeman Sports and Media company, seems like the right person to turn the magazine around. The East Chicago native says he was inspired by seeing the success of a Black business in his hometown growing up.

“When you look at Ebony, you look at the history not just for Black people, but of the United States,” Bridgeman told the Tribune. “I think it’s something that a generation is missing and we want to bring that back as much as we can.”

Bridgeman is an example of the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that led Johnson to success 75 years ago. After his playing days with the Bucks ended in 1987, he went on to success as a businessman, first as a fast-food franchisee, ultimately owning a total of 450 franchises with an estimated net worth of $600M, and then as the founder of Heartland Coca-Cola Bottling Company, which covers distribution in Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Kansas where it’s headquartered.

This is not Bridgeman’s first attempt to purchase a magazine. He attempted to buy Sports Illustrated which was ultimately sold to Authentic Brands Group for $110M by Meredith Corporation.

Bridgeman hopes he can make a difference with the storied publications.

Ebony kind of stood for Black excellence, showing people doing positive things that could benefit everyone,” he said to the Tribune.

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He and his children will run the magazines and are putting a plan together but expect that it will remain a mostly digital outlet but with specialty print issues.

“Nothing is ever easy, but this would be, I think, a labor of love.”

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