Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will never forget the moment when he first met Bruce Lee and his wife Linda, as they both left an incredible impact on him that eventually led to his decision to train and become friends with Bruce Lee.
Meeting Bruce Lee before his fame
Apart from being a legendary NBA player, Kareem's points of interest included many other things, and training martial arts was one of them. Wanting to learn more about the discipline and having a great mentor was the reason how Kareem stumbled upon Bruce Lee, who at that specific time wasn't even famous and was just one of the many martial arts instructors in L.A. It was 1967, and Kareem was still in college at UCLA when he first heard about Bruce from his friend and in his book 'Becoming Kareem' describes the first encounter with the future movie superstar.
They hit off it immediately since Kareem liked Bruce's unformal approach and friendliness when they first met. Bruce took an immediate interest in the famous 7'2" college basketball player interested in martial arts. Soon, they started thinking of ways to help each other out.
“Bruce was the kind of person who could win you over within twenty seconds of meeting him. Most martial arts instructors I had met before were very “stiff and formal, constantly demanding overt demonstrations of respect. Not Bruce. He greeted me with a broad smile and friendly demeanor, and right away I knew this was not a scowling teacher from Japanese films demanding bowing obedience. We talked UCLA basketball for a while and then got down to business.”
During that first meeting, Bruce wanted to showcase just a glimpse of what he could potentially teach Kareem, so he did a demonstration that featured his wife, Linda. Interestingly enough, Kareem was supposed to hold a punching bag, and Linda was supposed to hit it to show the power of her punch. But, just like anyone, Kareem found it strange and unbelievable that a woman that was not even comparable in size and strength to Kareem could do anything.
A demonstration changed everything
Soon enough, Kareem felt the full force of Linda's kick as he soon felt it throughout his entire body despite holding the punching bag with his total weight. Bruce and Linda couldn't help but smile as they saw Kareem completely shocked at the fact that a small woman could produce such force.
“Bruce asked his wife, Linda, to assist him in a demonstration. He told me to brace myself behind the heavy punching bag that hung by a chain from the ceiling. The bag was as thick and heavy as a body. “Hold it as tight as you can,” he instructed me. Suddenly Linda fired off a kick straight into the bag. The impact rocked me backward a few feet, readjusted my spine, and possibly rearranged the order of my teeth. They stood there smiling at the shocked expression on my face. Okay,” I said, rubbing my chest. “Teach me that.”
After that demonstration, Kareem didn't need much convincing that Bruce Lee was the right choice for his martial arts teacher and a mentor. They would develop a strong relationship and a friendship throughout the years, and Kareem often spoke highly of Bruce, saying he was a mentor who helped him grow as a person with his guidance. Kareem even made a guest appearance in one of Bruce's movies called 'Game of Death' where he even has a fight scene against Bruce.
Looking back, it's amazing that a simple demonstration from Bruce's wife Linda impressed Kareem so much and opened his eyes to the possibilities of everything Bruce can teach him. It's also proof that Bruce practiced what he preached, which is the main reason behind his legendary success.