At age 26, Jimi Hendrix closed out the biggest music festival in history with one of the most iconic performances in music history. Not to be outdone, Kobe Bryant was already a three-time NBA championship by the same point in his young life. Both icons left us far too early, but their legacies will carry on for generations.
Happy Friday and welcome to WEEK 6!
Despite a polar vortex currently blasting through the entire US, bringing record lows and SNOW(?) to my home state of Texas and beyond…we’re turning up the heat on TSL as we mash together two of the best to ever do it in their respective fields: Kobe Bean Bryant and James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix.
Their lives in the public eye are separated by about 25 years. Kobe was born in 1978, eight years after Jimi’s death. He was drafted 13th overall in the 1993 NBA Draft and was immediately traded. He went on to play 20 seasons for his childhood favorite team and retire as a top 5—and certainly one of the most beloved and influential—players in NBA history.
Hendrix was born in 1942 (when movies were just 30 cents!) and tragically only had a four-year mainstream career before his premature death at the ominous age of 27. Both live on eternally in their craft—especially amongst those most active within them today. There wouldn’t be THE Jayson Tatum without Kobe Bryant, much like there wouldn’t be THE Freddie Mercury without Jimi Hendrix. I say “THE” because, of course, these people have existed or still do – but the versions of them that we’ve grown to love may never have come to be without the inspirations that were before. You get me? Let’s dive into it.
Hendrix grew up surrounded by constant disruption and change. His siblings were in and out of foster care, his parents struggled with alcoholism and finances and fought often, and he was moved from house to house, dependent upon which relative was set to look after him. Unsurprisingly, Little James got into lots of trouble and eventually, after being caught in a stolen car for the second time, was given the choice between prison and enlisting in the service.
At just 19-years-old, Hendrix joined the Army on May 31, 1961. Within weeks of his assignment at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, he was writing his father about his discontent with Army life and his wish for the guitar he missed so much. “I really need it now,” he wrote. Al Hendrix obliged his son’s wish, sending him the red Silvertone Danelectro Jimi grew up playing. Soon the young recruit was neglecting his duties as he became increasingly obsessed with his instrument.
This led to other servicemen taunting and physically abusing Hendrix, even stealing and hiding his guitar and making him beg for it back. However, it wasn’t all bad. The army is where Jimi met bassist Billy Cox. Cox heard Hendrix playing in an on-base club and the two jammed, sparking a lifetime collaboration. By June 29th, 1962 (and after months of complaints from superiors) Hendrix was granted a general discharge under honorable conditions.
Over the years, Hendrix served as the guitarist on projects for numerous established artists such as The Isley Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, Jackie Wilson, and Little Richard. Unhappy with his place as a sideman, and gaining notoriety as a musician on the rise, Keith Richards referred Jimi to Chas Chandler, who was leaving The Animals and entering the management and production side of things. Chandler helped Jimi assemble a band that became The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Noel Redding completed the legendary trio and Chandler was the one to convince Hendrix to change his “Jimmy” to a more eye-catching “Jimi.” After sharing a bill with Cream, where fellow guitar great Eric Clapton first met Jimi, Clapton remarked, “He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. I mean he did a few of his tricks, like playing with his teeth and behind his back, but it wasn’t in an upstaging sense at all, and that was it… He walked off, and my life was never the same again.”
Hendrix became known on a massive level after photos of his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival spread, showcasing his finale in which he set his guitar on fire and bowed before it, hands raised to the sky. When talking about the moment, Hendrix kept it simple saying, “I decided to destroy my guitar at the end of a song as a sacrifice. You sacrifice things you love. I love my guitar.” Hendrix’s fame and legend reached all-time heights after he closed out the iconic Woodstock Festival in 1969, his set delayed from Sunday night to Monday morning, Jimi awoke the crowd with an hour-long performance at 9 AM that ended with his classic “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” flowing into his controversial, unplanned rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Many believe his performance was completely off the cuff, but in reality, he had been practicing it for years and even performed the anthem multiple times in 1968—every version being unique from the one before, ranging from three minutes to six-plus and painting a different story of America every time. Drummer Mitch Mitchell later said they had not planned it for Woodstock.
Though the performance drew criticism at the time from some who felt it was negatively expressed or even downright satanic, the song received a Grammy award in 2009. In 2011, Guitar World magazine named his take on the anthem “the greatest performance of all-time.”
Jimi Hendrix died on the morning of September 18th, 1970 when his girlfriend woke up to him unresponsive but breathing. An ambulance arrived nine minutes later and transported him to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead about an hour later. An initial cause of death, asphyxia from alcohol poisoning, was later deemed inconclusive due to “insufficient evidence of circumstances” in the post-mortem examination and was left an “open verdict.”
Hendrix is widely considered one of the most important and influential artists to ever live and his ominous and ever-fluctuating short life continues to be the topic of great discussion and debate today—50 years after his death. The late great Freddie Mercury put it best, in my opinion, when speaking on Hendrix, “Jimi Hendrix was just a beautiful man, a master showman, and a dedicated musician. I would scour the country to see him, whenever he played because he really had everything any rock’n’roll star should have; all the style and presence.”
Kobe Bean Bryant was born in Philadelphia to Pamela Cox Bryant and former NBA player Joe Bryant. He was their only son, as Kobe grew up with two older sisters. His middle name came from his father’s nickname “Jellybean” and he started playing basketball when he was 3-years-old, becoming a big Lakers fan.
When Kobe was six, his father retired from the NBA and moved the family to Italy to continue playing professionally. Kobe learned to speak fluent Italian and take basketball more seriously. He also picked up soccer and became a fan of A.C. Milan. His grandfather would send him tapes of NBA games to study and Kobe would go back to the States every summer to play in tournaments. When he was 13, his family returned to Philadelphia and he enrolled in middle school.
By 1996, Kobe was a top-rated high school star and after a workout with the Lakers, he became their top target in the draft. Wanting to trade their center, Vlade Divac—and gain a draft pick to free up cap space in their pursuit of marquee free agent Shaquille O’Neal—the Lakers were able to strike up a deal with the Charlotte Hornets, who agreed to give up their first-round pick rights the day before the draft.
Kobe became the first guard ever drafted right out of high school. At just 17, he had to have his parents cosign his rookie contract. Kobe finished his career a 5-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 18-time NBA All-Star, and 1-time league MVP. He was one of the most polarizing, hated, yet beloved figures to ever grace the sport. He faced his fair share of self-inflicted controversy—whether that was a video of him calling a rookie teammate “trash,” a stretch of games involving flagrant elbows in the 2006-07 season, or the sexual assault allegations that were dropped after the accuser elected not to testify and Kobe admitted to the encounter but claimed it was consensual with the two settling privately—but his confidence in himself never waned.
After his death, resulting from a helicopter crash that took the life of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven of her teammates and family members, countless tributes sprung up all over the world to honor the Lakers legend. At 41-years-old, it seemed Bryant was just starting to find his calling as an ambassador and motivational leader and for his incredible legacy on it, his biggest impact would be off the court. He was dedicated to gaining respect and recognition for women’s sports and Gianna was already turning heads with her advanced basketball abilities. He had already won an Oscar for his animated short “Dear Basketball” and he continues to inspire generations of hoopers who shout his name any time they put up a jump shot.
These two men were fearless leaders in their own lives and conquered every hurdle they faced. Both executed their craft at the highest level and led supporting casts to extraordinary heights. Listening to Jimi make his guitar speak and scream and soothe and explode on top of a clutch Kobe steal ending in a thunderous jam, you can feel a shared electricity between these two greats. The command they held in their on-court and on-stage presence is undeniable and something that flows together in harmony, while leaving us in awe for generations to come.
Speaking of listening to Jimi while watching the Mamba, here’s Kobe highlights synced to “All Along the Watchtower.”