Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Shared a Moving Remembrance of Bruce Lee

It's been 50 years since Lee's untimely death

Scene from "Game of Death"
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bruce Lee on the set of 'Game of Death', written and directed by Robert Clouse, 1972.
Concord Productions Inc./Golden Harvest Company/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

This week marks a sad milestone in cinematic history: it’s the 50th anniversary of the death of Bruce Lee at the age of 33. It’s bittersweet to imagine what might have been had he lived — both in terms of the films he might have made and the influence that he might have had on the movie world.

One person who knew him well during his life is another prominent figure in pop culture and elsewhere: basketball legend, Sherlock Holmes enthusiast and acclaimed writer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. On his Substack newsletter, Abdul-Jabbar shared a series of moving remembrances about his friend and co-star — and one that offers a candid look at an onscreen legend.

It begins with Abdul-Jabbar recalling the moment when he’d first learned of Lee’s death. “He was 32, and I was 25,” Abdul-Jabbar writes. “He had been not only my martial arts teacher but my close friend, and I was still young enough to not yet have experienced much profound loss in my life, which is why his death hit me so hard.”

That, in turn, segues into an excerpt from Abdul-Jabbar’s autobiography that tells the story of their first meeting.

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In the end, it’s a moving look at a tremendous loss — and one that offers a more personal perspective than most people had. Abdul-Jabbar notes that Lee would now be in his 80s, had he lived. “He wouldn’t be jumping and flipping and hitting, but he’d probably be making movies in which other martial artists would be jumping and flipping and hitting,” Abdul-Jabbar writes. “He’d still be telling stories.” And it’s bittersweet to think about all those stories we’ll never get a chance to see.

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