Bruce Lee and basketball – an awkward fit, to say the least. But the connection is there. And what better time to make one than after the airing of ESPN's new "30 for 30" documentary, "Be Water." The doc touches on Lee's famous fight scene in the movie "Game of Death" with none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The relationship between the two goes way back, even before making the film. Their respective careers were developing at a similar time, and it turns out they both influenced each other. Well, one more than the other.
“I first met Bruce when I was a student at UCLA looking to continue my martial arts studies, which I started in New York City. We quickly developed a friendship as well as a student-teacher relationship. He taught me the discipline and spirituality of martial arts, which was greatly responsible for me being able to play competitively in the NBA for 20 years with very few injuries.”
Kareem Abdul Jabbar, ESPN
Kareem took the opportunity of working with Lee. He got the best from a martial arts specialist, as he focused on stuff he could apply himself as a basketball player. That stuff was injury prevention, as Jabbar took the time to work with Bruce to prologue his career and overall durability.
“Bruce always emphasized the effectiveness of stretching, so before we worked out, we stretched all the time. That was it. I took that to another level by studying yoga and being able to advance as a yoga student, which was the best preventative maintenance I could've been doing in the offseason. I'd do strength training, flexibility training, cardiovascular training, and only took off two weeks out of the whole year; the rest of the time, I'd make sure I worked out at least three or four times a week.”
Kareem Abdul Jabbar, ESPN
Sounds like your basic you-learn-it-in-elementary type of stuff, but it's far from the truth. It's a crucial aspect of an athlete's life that often gets overlooked. It's a foundation of a long and successful NBA career, and Jabbar understood it. That's why he averaged 78 regular-season games during his 20-year NBA career. It isn't solely because of Bruce Lee's mentorship, but it surely had a lot to do with it.
It's a common practice among athletes – you go out of your sport to discover things that would help you with your profession. Because sport, in general, is stratified. It may be the same, but small things are what make the difference.
Jabbar paid attention to small things and went out of his way to do it perfectly. Bruce Lee was probably the best individual to take advice from, and Kareem maximized his relationship with him. It resulted in an all-time great NBA career, and can also be used by other NBA stars to do the same.
The point is this; use your stardom and reach out to people that can help you with your career. Do unorthodox stuff that may seem illogical now, but will pay huge dividends in the future. Follow Kareem's path.