BUFFALO — After 24 years, John Tavares says he's ready to step away from playing professional lacrosse, but he’s not leaving the team he’s led for nearly a quarter-century.

The Buffalo Bandits forward announced his retirement from the National Lacrosse League in a press conference Wednesday at First Niagara Center. Coach Troy Cordingley announced Tavares would join his staff as an assistant coach for the 2016 season, while Director of Lacrosse Operations Scott Loffler said the team will retire his No. 11 jersey.

Tavares, the holder of countless team and league records, said being unable to play in front of the game’s fans, in Buffalo and around the NLL, was the hardest part of his decision.

“The game of lacrosse has been my blood since I was four years old,” he said. “It's definitely hard for me to let go. It's been a great ride and everything has got to come to an end. As much as I want to play, in my mind it's like 'Go, go, go,' unfortunately my body's not following anymore. It's time to let go and start a new chapter in my life.”

Tavares leads the NLL career record books in games played (306), goals (815), assists (934) and points (1,749), and is second in in loose ball recoveries (2,169). Injuries slowed Tavares, who turns 47 on Friday, to a career-low 12 goals in his final season in 10 games.

“It’s been a joy to watch you, it’s been a joy to get to know you,” Loffler said, turning to Tavares. “I think the most impressive thing about John is how long he’s done it for. Twenty-four years at the top level is pretty impressive. His last game, he had five points. The game before that, he had four goals. It’s not that he can’t play anymore in terms of his talent. Like he said, his body can’t do it anymore.

“Another thing that’s pretty impressive about John is he’s done it with class, he’s done it with respect and humility. He’s the first guy to give credit to everybody else and not himself. I think today, and the rest of the (2016) season, the fans can give him the respect he deserves.”

Cordingley played with Tavares for seven years starting in 1993 and returned to coach him the last two seasons.

“He’s been the face of the NLL, the best athlete, bar none, and that’s in any sport,” Cordingley said. “What he’s done for our sport and our franchise is unbelievable.”

Tavares played in 10 NLL All-Star games and made 19 NLL All-Pro teams 19 times, both records, and won three MVP awards (1994, 2000 and 2001). He leads all Bandits franchise offensive records after appearing in 93 percent of the team's games. He has accounted for 39 percent of the franchise's goals by scoring or assisting.

His high mark was 2001, when he tallied 115 points (51+64), still a Bandits record.

Tavares, a Mississauga, Ontario native, owns four NLL championships with the Bandits (1992, 1993, 1996 and 2008), and holds NLL all-time playoff bests in games played (38), goals (84), assists (116) and points (200).

In a press release, NLL Commissioner George Daniel called it a privilege to watch Tavares play.

“Beyond all of the records, championships and accolades, John has been a tremendous ambassador for the game,” Daniel said. “He gave everything he had out on the field each and every night. We shall never see his like again."

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