The NBA legend was a longtime friend of Lee, famously fighting him in the climax of the 1978 film Game of Death. He feels that portraying Lee as a comedic prop for Brad Pitt was harmful to how he will be remembered by the culture at large. He voiced his displeasure in an article for the Hollwood Reporter.
Abdul-Jabbar noted that Tarantino was "one of his favorite filmmakers" and admitted that he is easily drawn in to Tarantino's "giddy energy" and brash fanboy approach to moviemaking.
"That’s what makes the Bruce Lee scenes so disappointing, not so much on a factual basis, but as a lapse of cultural awareness," he said.
Abdul-Jabbar said that Lee dedicated his life to breaking down the stereotypes and barriers around Asian actors in Hollywood. So, seeing him bested by a past-his-prime stuntman was a direct line to the sort of role Lee would not have accepted in his own life.
"The John Wayne machismo attitude of Cliff (Brad Pitt), an aging stuntman who defeats the arrogant, uppity Chinese guy harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle," Abdul-Jabbar wrote.
Jabbar said that Tarantino "has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants." However, he feels that Tarantino let the legacy of Lee down by crafting his character in a "sloppy and somewhat racist way."