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Kobe to retire at end of season

LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant has decided to retire after this season, ending his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The 37-year-old Bryant made the announcement in a post on The Players' Tribune on Sunday. The third-leading scorer in NBA history wrote a poem entitled "Dear Basketball" to announce his decision.

"My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it's time to say goodbye," Bryant wrote. "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 went straight from high school in suburban Philadelphia to the Lakers in 1996, and he earned five championship rings and 17 All-Star selections during two decades with the franchise — the longest tenure with one team in NBA history. Bryant also won two Olympic gold medals.

But Bryant's last three seasons have ended early due to injuries, and he played in only 41 games over the previous two years. He has struggled mightily in the first 15 games of this season with mostly young teammates on a rebuilding roster, making a career-worst 32 percent of his shots and dealing with pain and exhaustion every day.

In recent months, Bryant repeatedly said he didn't know whether he would play another season, clearly hoping for a rebound in his health and the Lakers' fortunes.

Neither has happened, and the ever-impatient Bryant didn't wait any longer to decide his future.

"Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. "Whether competing in the 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."

Even during his late-career struggles, Bryant's fans have remained devoted to the 6-foot-6 star who won titles alongside Shaquille O'Neal in 2000, 2001 and 2002 before teaming with Pau Gasol for two more in 2009 and 2010. Only 13 players in league history played on more championship teams than Bryant.

"I know his purpose is to finish out this season and play," said Lakers coach Byron Scott, Bryant's teammate during the 1996-97 season. "It's always sad when greatness decides to hang it up. ... I thought he had at least another year in him."

Bryant is the NBA's highest-paid player this season with a $25 million salary bestowed on him by grateful Lakers owner Jim Buss despite his recent injury problems. Bryant has been tirelessly devoted to the franchise, repeatedly declaring he would never play for another NBA team despite the Lakers' wholesale rebuilding process following the disastrous 2012-13 season with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

But Bryant's departure will allow the Lakers to finish straddling the past and the future, with young prospects Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson taking on leading roles rather than deferring to their superstar teammate.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996. AP PHOTO