Bill Bridges Born: April 4, 1939 (Hobbs, NM)
Graduated: Hobbs (NM) High School, 1958; University of Kansas, 1961
Deceased: September 25, 2015 (Los Angeles, CA)
As University of Kansas forward Wayne Hightower finished the basket on his third attempt with a little over fourteen minutes left in the game against the University of Missouri on March 11, 1961, tempers finally erupted. The atmosphere had been simmering throughout the game and with Hightower’s finish, and subsequent thrown punch aimed at Missouri center Charlie Henke, feelings finally boiled over.
In the melee that ensued, Kansas forward Bill Bridges rushed in to his teammate’s defense. The six-foot-six Bridges struck an imposing figure and he charged in to the confrontation that featured not only players from both teams, but also fans streaming in on the Missouri side.
Bridges reaction to the conflict was well-intended, yet remarkably surprising for someone fellow Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Ted Owens called, “one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet” with “a great, sweet spirit about him.” Bridges never left Hightower’s side during the scuffle and as the dust settled, it was clear to see that none of the opposing players or fans wanted to cross Bridges’ path.
A native of Hobbs, New Mexico, Bridges was recruited to the University of Kansas by Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Dick Harp in 1958. Following in the footsteps of noted Jayhawk big men like Clyde Lovellette, B.H. Born, and Wilt Chamberlain, Bridges had some big shoes to fill but he was more than up for the task.
Consistency was the key for Bridges. In his first year of eligibility as a sophomore, Bridges set the tone for his KU career by leading the team in rebounding and finishing second in scoring on his way to earning first-team All-Big 8 honors. He would repeat those feats again as a junior and senior, and added a first-team All-American selection in 1961 as well.
Despite only playing three years in Lawrence, Bridges was the first player to total more than 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career points as a Jayhawk, a feat only three others in the history of the program can match. Bridges career rebounding average of 13.9 per game is only topped by fellow Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, the great Wilt Chamberlain.
Bridges carried that same consistency on to the professional level as well. After being drafted in the third round of the NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks, Bridges went on to play thirteen professional seasons with the St. Louis Hawks, later known as the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Golden State Warriors. Bridges compiled over 11,000 points and rebounds in his professional career which saw him earn three trips to the NBA All-Star game in 1967, 1968, and 1970. Bridges also won an NBA Championship with the Golden State Warriors in 1975.
In perhaps the greatest marker of consistency, for his entire collegiate and professional career, Bridges averaged a double-double in points scored and rebounds.
Today, Bridges takes his place alongside some of the greatest big men to ever don the crimson and blue. Looking back on his career, it is easy to see that he belongs because there is no doubt that anytime Bill Bridges stepped on the court, opponents both feared and respected him because of his playing ability, even the ones from Missouri.