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Kobe Bryant announces retirement

The decision was not totally unexpected as the 37-year-old Lakers guard has been plagued by injuries.

Los Angeles Lakers #24 Kobe Bryant takes a shot during free play. Picture: AFP.

LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player of his generation, announced on Sunday he will retire after the 2015-16 National Basketball Association season.

Bryant, who is struggling through the worst season of his illustrious 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, said in a piece posted on the Players' Tribune website that "I'm ready to let [basketball] go."

The decision was not totally unexpected as the 37-year-old Lakers guard has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons and had recently said he was considering retirement.

"I can't love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give," wrote Bryant. "My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it's time to say goodbye."

Bryant, a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer who is third on the NBA's all-time scoring list, has a career-worst 31.5 shooting percentage through his first 12 games of the season on a Lakers team that has the second worst record in the league.

Named Kobe by his parents after they spotted the popular Japanese cut of beef on a restaurant menu shortly before his birth, Bryant is now a five-time NBA champion having won titles in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.

He was drafted out of high school with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets but was traded shortly after the Lakers for Serbian Vlade Divac.

He has appeared in 17 All-Star games, was named the Most Valuable Player for the 2007-08 regular season and landed MVP honors in the 2009 and 2010 Finals when he led the Lakers to consecutive championships.

Bryant has also won gold medals with the US basketball team at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

'THRILLING MEMORIES'

During his career, Bryant made a habit of draining game-winning shots despite being double or triple-teamed by opponents and has established a reputation for being one of the best closers in the NBA.

In his essay, Bryant talked about being a boy who would use his father's rolled-up socks to shoot imaginary game-winning shots at the Great Western Forum, where the Lakers played from 1967 to 1999.(here)

"I'm ready to let you go," wrote Bryant, who trails only Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone on the NBA's scoring list.

"So we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other all that we have."

Bryant was sidelined nearly eight months in 2013 with a torn Achilles' tendon, then played just six games during the 2013-14 season because of a severe knee injury.

Last season, he played 35 games but increasingly suffered soreness in his knees, feet and back, prompting coach Byron Scott to cut back significantly on Bryant's playing time going forward while altering his on-court role.

Lakers head coach Byron Scott, who was Bryant's teammate during the latter's rookie season, said he was shocked when his player told him of the decision on Saturday.

"I think he still loves this game. He still has a passion for it. He's still a competitive young man," Scott said on Sunday. "His purpose is to finish out this season and play."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in a statement released moments after Bryant's news surfaced, called the Lakers guard one of the greatest players in the game.

"Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game," said Silver.

"I join Kobe's millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories."

THE FULL POEM:

Dear Basketball,

From the moment

I started rolling my dad's tube socks

And shooting imaginary

Game-winning shots

In the Great Western Forum

I knew one thing was real:

I fell in love with you.

A love so deep I gave you my all -

From my mind & body

To my spirit & soul.

As a six-year-old boy

Deeply in love with you

I never saw the end of the tunnel.

I only saw myself

Running out of one.

And so I ran.

I ran up and down every court

After every loose ball for you.

You asked for my hustle

I gave you my heart

Because it came with so much more.

I played through the sweat and hurt

Not because challenge called me

But because YOU called me.

I did everything for YOU

Because that's what you do

When someone makes you feel as

Alive as you've made me feel.

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream

And I'll always love you for it.

But I can't love you obsessively for much longer.

This season is all I have left to give.

My heart can take the pounding

My mind can handle the grind

But my body knows it's time to say goodbye.

And that's OK.

I'm ready to let you go.

I want you to know now

So we both can savor every moment we have left together.

The good and the bad.

We have given each other

All that we have.

And we both know, no matter what I do next

I'll always be that kid

With the rolled up socks

Garbage can in the corner

:05 seconds on the clock

Ball in my hands.

5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1

Love you always,

Kobe

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