Kobe Bryant to retire at end of season
KOBE Bryant announced on Sunday that this will be his final season, the veteran Los Angeles Lakers star walking away as one of the greatest legends in National Basketball Association (NBA) history.
The five-time NBA champion, who ranks third in all-time scoring with 32,670 points, said in a first-person poem on the Players Tribune website that "this season is all I have left to give".
The 37-year-old spent his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, the first NBA player to stay so long with the same club.
But Bryant, a member of two Olympic gold medal squads, has been nagged by injuries in recent campaigns and has struggled to find form this season, the Lakers being off to a miserable 2-13 start.
"My body knows it's time to say goodbye," he said in a poem entitled "Dear Basketball" and meant as a love letter to the sport.
Bryant was introduced to a roaring ovation on Sunday night when the Lakers hosted the Indiana Pacers.
Each spectator was given a "special message" printed on white paper and gold lettering at the top that read, "My love to this city, this team and for each of you will never fade. Thank you for this incredible journey."
Bryant got off to a slow start on Sunday going 1-for-7 before getting his first basket of the game 8min 30sec into the first quarter.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was quick to signal that one of the greatest careers in the history of the sport is ending.
"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."
Lakers coach Byron Scott spoke on Saturday with Bryant about his decision.
"I thought he at least had another year in him," Scott said. "It kind of shocked me when he told me. Sad more than anything. Somebody I care about, have a lot of respect for, it's always hard when greatness like Kobe decides to hang it up."
Barring injury, Bryant's final game would be at home against Utah on April 13.
His farewell tour begins today at Philadelphia, his hometown.