Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, one of the best basketball players ever, will retire after the current NBA season.

Bryant, who is struggling through the worst season of his illustrious 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, said in a piece posted on the Players' Tribune website: "I'm ready to let go."

The decision was not totally unexpected, as the 37-year-old Lakers guard has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons and had recently said he was considering retirement.

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"I can't love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give," wrote Bryant.

"My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it's time to say goodbye."

Bryant, a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer who is third on the NBA's all-time scoring list, has a career-worst 31.5 shooting percentage through his first 12 games of the season on a Lakers team that has the second worst record in the league.

Named Kobe by his parents after they spotted the popular Japanese cut of beef on a restaurant menu shortly before his birth, Bryant is now a five-time NBA champion, having won titles in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.

He was drafted out of high school with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets but was traded shortly after the Lakers for Serbian Vlade Divac.

He has appeared in 17 All-Star games, was named the Most Valuable Player for the 2007-08 regular season and landed MVP honours in the 2009 and 2010 Finals, when he led the Lakers to consecutive championships.

Bryant has also won gold medals with the US basketball team at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Bryant was sidelined nearly eight months in 2013 with a torn Achilles tendon, then played just six games during the 2013-14 season because of a severe knee injury.

Last season, he played 35 games but increasingly suffered soreness in his knees, feet and back, prompting coach Byron Scott to cut back significantly on Bryant's playing time while altering his on-court role.

Bryant has won gold medals with the US basketball team at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics [AP]

Source: Reuters