Thursday, October 8, 2015

Former KU basketball great Bill Bridges dies at age of 76

Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia 76ers reaches to block the shot of Bill Bridges (32) of the St. Louis Hawks in National Basketball Assn., game in St. Louis, on Sunday, afternoon, Jan. 29, 1967.

Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia 76ers reaches to block the shot of Bill Bridges (32) of the St. Louis Hawks in National Basketball Assn., game in St. Louis, on Sunday, afternoon, Jan. 29, 1967.


Former Kansas University basketball standout Bill Bridges, a three-time all-Big Eight selection and All-American his senior year in 1961, has died at the age of 76.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound rebounding machine died Sept. 25 at Cedars-Sinai hospital in California following a battle with cancer.

“Bill was a great person, an incredible person, one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. He was a wonderful man with a great, sweet spirit about him,” former KU coach Ted Owens said of the Hobbs, New Mexico native who was recruited to KU by Dick Harp and Jerry Waugh in 1957.

“He was the finest rebounder for his size of anybody I’ve ever seen. He taught me a lot about rebounding. He had an incredible career in the NBA (three-time all-star), winning the championship with Rick Barry and that bunch," Owens added.


Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Dec. 10, 2004, former Kansas standout and NBA player Bill Bridges displays his jersey during a halftime recognition and jersey retirement ceremony at Allen Fieldhouse.

Bridges —he averaged an amazing 13.9 rebounds a game in his three seasons as a Jayhawk (second highest rebound average in school history) and scored 1,028 points in just 78 games played — played 13 years in the NBA and won a championship with Golden State in 1975.

He averaged a double-double over the course of his pro career (11.9 points, 11.9 rebounds) and was twice named to the NBA’s all defensive team.

“He was 6-6, about 230 and that was long before weightlifting. He was truly one of our greatest players,” Owens said of Bridges, who grabbed 30 rebounds against Northwestern in 1960, third most in a game in school history. Owens was a KU assistant coach in 1960-61 when Bridges helped protect the Jayhawk bench as a fight broke out at the end of Missouri’s 79-76 win over KU in Columbia.

“He probably saved us down at Missouri my first year. You can still watch it on the Internet, the fight with Missouri. Bill cleared out about half of a court down there. Nobody (MU fans who stormed court) wanted a part of Bill,” Owens reflected with a laugh.

Owens offered Bridges a job on his coaching staff at KU.

“It was at the end of his playing career. I told him I could offer $9,000,” Owens said. “Of course he said he couldn’t afford that, but I would have loved to have him on our staff. He was a terrific guy, a great friend, one of our truly great players.”

KU grad Dana Anderson, who is one of KU’s more prominent boosters, remembers meeting Bridges many years ago in Santa Monica, California, where Anderson worked and Bridges lived.

“He saw my KU tags on my car one day, walked in the office and asked, ‘Who is the person with the car with KU on it?’” Anderson recalled. “That’s how we met. I knew who he was immediately, of course. We became friends. We had some good talks philosophically about race. He was a really neat person intellectually.”

Physically ... “he had the biggest hands of any human being I’ve ever met, mammoth,” Anderson said. “Much bigger than Wilt (Chamberlain). His arms and hands were just a knack for rebounds. At one point he was leading rebounder among all forwards in the pros. He had sturdy and large shoulder and a big body. His arms and hands were huge and he knew how to use them.”

Anderson, who traveled with Bridges to Lawrence in 2004 for Bill’s jersey retirement ceremony, indicated the player was thrilled to be so honored by his alma mater.

Cindy Fraser, who was Bridges' partner of many years, indicated Bridges was “very proud to be a Jayhawk. People would introduce themselves to him and he’d go into the Rock Chalk cheer. He just loved KU.”

She indicated a possible moment of silence at Friday’s Late Night in the Phog “would be perfect. He didn’t want a service. He was a very quiet man.”

After reflection, she knows of one other thing that would please him.

“In thinking about it, I’m sure Bill would love a last ‘Rock Chalk’ in his honor,” Fraser said.


John Randall 6 years, 9 months ago

I enrolled at KU in 1958, Bill's first varsity year (freshmen didn't play varsity until quite a bit later). The article made no mention of Bill achieving so much with a chunk of steel embedded in one leg to repair a knee badly injured as a high schooler at Hobbs.

The court-charging in Columbia after Wayne Hightower retaliated for the non-officiated mugging all game long was as inspiring as any game incident I witnessed in my eight-year stint of never missing a game at AFH. When the precursors of the Antlers came pouring out under the basket, Mr. Bridges calmly took a station in the middle of the lane and began literally THROWING them, one or two at a time, back into the stands. The TV coverage showed dozens of fists thrown, but none by the guy from Hobbs,NM - though the fans who landed two or three rows deep in the crowd may have felt differently.

We, Bill and I and Curtis, were on the same dormitory floor one year and I agree 100% that there wasn't a better citizen, or friendlier student on campus than these two. While Wilt and a few others had taken some of the edge off Lawrence's racism, Bill Bridges and Curtis McClinton had as much to do with continued improvements as anyone could have at that time.

Truly fine gentlemen, with myself holding probationary status sometimes.

Gary Bedore 6 years, 9 months ago

Nice post, John. Bill Bridges inch for inch is probably the greatest rebounder in sports history. He's right up there. Remember he was 6-foot-6. He's fourth in school history in rebounds and 50th in scoring which is pretty darn impressive considering they played so few games back then compared to now and he played just 3 years of varsity ball at KU. Bridges was a helluva player. It's again baffling they had those stupid guidelines for so many years and he didn't get his jersey hung until 2004. Bill Bridges shoulda had his jersey hung much sooner. But no harm no foul. He was alive and well in 2004 and very proud of the honor once it arrived.

David Robinett 6 years, 9 months ago

LJW, any video available? more history on Bill?

Rodney Crain 6 years, 9 months ago

Never a more true All American. Class, Sportsmanship and Desire. His all out "must have" the rebound has not seen many a equal in basketball. Great player. Rest in Peace sir.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 9 months ago

RIP, Mr. Bridges. Thanks for all you did for KU and in life.

Michael Lorraine 6 years, 9 months ago

Coach Self will make sure they pay tribute to Mr. Bridges. If not at Late Night it will happen at one of the games.

Titus Canby 6 years, 9 months ago

Until Danny Manning, Bill Bridges was the only KU basketball player to score 1,000 points and get 1,000 rebounds. Has anyone else done it since? Maybe Collison or LaFrentz?

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