Kobe Bryant announces that he will retire at the end of this season

Ball Don't Lie
Kobe Bryant is ready to retire. (AFP Photo/Thearon W. Henderson)
Kobe Bryant is ready to retire. (AFP Photo/Thearon W. Henderson)

Kobe Bryant — one of the most popular, most successful, and most divisive players in NBA history — has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 season. The Los Angeles Lakers icon broke the news via a letter-poem on The Players' Tribune late Sunday afternoon.

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The full post is available here, but the key passage is below:

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.

Read through the poetry and the message is clear — Kobe will retire at the end of this season. The Players' Tribune sent out a press release confirming that Kobe had announced that this season will be his last. Bryant had previously suggested that this season was likely to be his last but had not made a formal announcement regarding his future.

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement, as well:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, 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.  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.”

Those who have watched Bryant in his 20th season will likely agree with his decision. The five-time NBA champion and 17-time All-Star has struggled mightily to meet his usual high standards, shooting just 31.5 percent from the field for a 15.7 ppg average. Yet those poor stats don't even communicate the experience of watching an all-time great look so bad on the courts he once dominated.

The news will also allow the basketball world to focus on Kobe's legacy rather than his current form. He will retire as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, an elite scorer capable of setting up teammates when motivated and locking down opposing defenders in his best seasons. He holds the record for most season with one franchise, boasts many Lakers individual career marks, and figures to retire in his current position of third on the NBA's all-time scoring list.

It's tempting to say we will have plenty of time to suss out Kobe's legacy before he hangs up his jersey this spring, but he has meant so much to the NBA for so many years that it's difficult to imagine a time when we will stop talking about him. He is the defining player of the sport's post-Jordan era.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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