The long, at times exceptional, at others wildly controversial career of Kobe Bryant is set to draw to a close.

The 37-year-old phenom who helped steer the Los Angeles Lakers to 5 NBA Championships today announced he will retire from professional basketball at the conclusion of the current NBA season.

Bryant announced his decision to walk away from the game in a poetically framed post on The Players’ Tribune entitled “Dear Basketball,” which read, in part:

“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.”

Bryant’s contract with the Lakers was set to expire at the end of this season, and it was long speculated that it would not be renewed. Bryant’s physical prowess had significantly diminished in recent years due to injuries and age, and his on-court performances so far this year have been particularly well below standard.

Kobe was selected in the 1996 NBA Draft directly out of High School, becoming the first guard ever to enter the NBA without going through the US college system.

Bryant was selected at pick 13 by the Charlotte Hornets, but due to some last minute trading, his rights were shifted to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were always Bryant’s preferred destination, and the chances of a Hornets jersey being adorned with the name “Bryant” were declared “an impossibility” by his manager. The Hornets were not considering drafting Bryant, and only did so under direction from the Lakers after the trade was made. The Hornets received Lakers starting centre Vlade Divac in return.

Bryant immediately broke into the Lakers side and quickly became the youngest NBA starter of all time, at just 18 years and 158 days by the time he secured the job.

Throughout the course of his 20 season career, Bryant has amassed a formidable record, including 5 NBA Championships, 2 NBA Finals MVP trophies, one league MVP trophy, 17 NBA All-Star selections, 2 Olympic Gold Medals, as well as surpassing Michael Jordan to become the third highest scorer in NBA history – behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.

Bryant was also an extremely divisive and controversial figure within basketball circles.

Notoriously egotistical, he was often accused of glory hogging and criticised for his apparent unwillingness to pass – evident in his career stats, which have him third on the all-time scoring list, but not even cracking the top 25 for assists, despite playing as a guard his whole career. LeBron James – a forward who has played 7 years less than Bryant – has more overall career assists.

Bryant was also the subject of a highly publicised sexual assault investigation in 2003.

Prior to undergoing knee surgery, Bryant was arrested and charged with the rape of a 19-year-old employee of a hotel Bryant was staying at. Bryant admitted to a sexual encounter, but denied it was sexual assault.

Bryant was formally charged with rape and was set to face trial after a series of preliminary hearings, but the charges were abruptly dropped after Bryant’s alleged victim stated she was unwilling to testify in court. She later filed a civil suit against Bryant which was settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

Bryant went public with what was essentially a mea culpa in the fallout from the collapsed trial, stating his guilt thusly:

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

The 2015-16 Lakers are extremely unlikely to make the NBA Playoffs, based on current form, meaning that – barring injury – Kobe Bryant’s final game will take place against the Utah Jazz at the Lakers home Staples Centre on April 14th.

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images.

via The Players’ Tribune.

If you have experienced sexual assault or domestic and family violence, or seeking to support someone who is, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.