LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant announced Sunday that this will be his final NBA season, saying in a first-person essay on the Players Tribune website that "this season is all I have left to give."
The 37-year-old American has won five NBA crowns in a 20-year career spent entirely with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant, a member of two Olympic gold medal squads, has been nagged by injuries in recent seasons and struggled to find form this season, the Lakers are off to a miserable 2-13 start.
"My body knows it's time to say goodbye," Bryant said in his poem, an open love letter to his sport entitled "Dear Basketball".
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was quick to respond to Bryant's announcement, the signal that one of the greatest careers in the history of basketball was coming to an end.
"With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP (2008), five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game," Silver said.
"Whether competing in the NBA Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game. 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."
Bryant artfully crafted his goodbye to the game by hearkening back to his boyhood dreams of playing in the NBA and shooting baskets with socks rolled into a ball.
"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," Bryant wrote.
"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." Bryant has averaged 25.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals over 1,280 games.
This season, with the Lakers stripped of much of their supporting cast to bolster Bryant, he is averaging 15.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists a contest.
Bryant ended his poem to basketball without giving a true hint as to what the future might hold for him.
"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"