Skip to main content

Bruce Lee vs. basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Watching a smaller man slay a larger man with superior technique is an archetype of martial arts philosophy.

If you enjoyed this article from The MMA UnderGround, check out more stories on:
Bruce Lee
Martial Arts on The Street
Dojo Storming


Watching a smaller man slay a larger man with superior technique is an archetype of martial arts philosophy— where skill and mindset trump brawn and can even overcome towering physical advantages.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a retired, professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association for the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks. No stranger to natural physical advantages or towering over his foes, Abdul Jabbar stands at an incredible 7'2" (2.18 m).

Abdul-Jabbar, who was no stranger to martial arts at the time of filming, was actually trained by Bruce Lee himself. Longtime companions, the pair trained together for four years starting in 1967, as Abdul-Jabbar explained in an interview with ESPN's Scott Van Pelt.

Lee was reportedly fascinated by Abdul-Jabbar’s size and was excited about the prospect of training such a specimen. It seems only fitting that the two would eventually share the stage together in what was to be Lee’s final and possibly most formidable hurrah.

Abdul-Jabbar made his film debut in what was Bruce Lee's final appearance on the silver screen in the ironically named Game of Death— a 1972 martial arts film written, produced, directed, and acted in by Bruce Lee. As previously mentioned, Lee died before the film could be completed, but over 100 minutes of footage were shot prior to his tragic death.

Abdul-Jabbar played the role of Hakim, who faced Lees' character Billy Lo in battle. Standing at a mere 5’7.5” (1.71 m), Lee was utterly dwarfed by Abdul-Jabbar, and the size disparity between the two made for a dazzling spectacle.

Freak-show-fights have been a cornerstone in sports entertainment since the dawn of combat arts. and this fight scene certainly strived to epitomize the ultimate freak show.

Without embedding a spoiler tag, I can say that Lee has to use his incredible agility and flexibility to remain competitive in the bout, which shows punches, kicks, elbows, takedowns, an Arm Triangle, and a Bulldog choke.

Share your thoughts on The UnderGround Forum.