The 72-year-old former basketball player wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter on Friday, August 16, explaining why he was so offended by the martial arts legend's portrayal in the latest Tarantino movie.
"Filmmakers have a responsibility when playing with people's perceptions of admired historic people to maintain a basic truth about the content of their character," Abdul-Jabbar explained in the piece. "Quentin Tarantino's portrayal of Bruce Lee in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' does not live up to this standard."
"Of course, Tarantino has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants. But to do so in such a sloppy and somewhat racist way is a failure both as an artist and as a human being."
The retired athlete, who co-starred with Bruce in 1978 film "Game of Death", went on to explain he had a strong friendship with Lee and was also his martial arts student, giving him valuable insider knowledge about the action hero in real life.
"Bruce Lee was my friend and teacher. That doesn't give him a free pass for how he's portrayed in movies. But it does give me some insight into the man," he wrote. "During our years of friendship, he spoke passionately about how frustrated he was with the stereotypical representation of Asians in film and TV."
Kareem added that Bruce was "dedicated to changing the dismissive image of Asians through his acting, writing and promotion of Jeet Kune Do, his interpretation of martial arts."
"That's why it disturbs me that Tarantino chose to portray Bruce in such a one-dimensional way," the basketball great noted. "I was in public with Bruce several times when some random jerk would loudly challenge Bruce to a fight. He always politely declined and moved on."
"First rule of Bruce’s fight club was don't fight - unless there is no other option. He felt no need to prove himself. He knew who he was and that the real fight wasn't on the mat, it was on the screen in creating opportunities for Asians to be seen as more than grinning stereotypes. Unfortunately, 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' prefers the good old ways."
Kareem's criticism follows that of Bruce's daughter Shannon Lee, who accused Tarantino last month of depicting her father as an uncomfortable "caricature" of onscreen Asian stereotypes.