Kobe Bryant was an icon in the basketball world, where he made his name synonymous with greatness as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers over a 20-year career.

But before the NBA titles and All-Star appearances, Bryant was just a kid, and that’s how his former teammates and classmates experienced him at Lower Merion. That’s what they told Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski, who is set to release his book, “The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality.

The book, which releases on Tuesday, shares many details on Bryant. But it was refreshing to read an excerpt from Sielski’s book and hear about this version of Bryant, who loved to talk hoops, who wasn’t always the funniest guy in the room and who got nervous about the type of things that 16-year-old kids get nervous about.

— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport

Tell us about your favorite Kobe Bryant moment, whether that spans back to his time at Lower Merion or focuses on his time with the Lakers: sports.daily@inquirer.com

Early Birds

It’s Jalen Hurts vs. Tom Brady, yes. The GOAT goes up against the Eagles’ first-time starter in the playoffs. But it’s also about the running game, which the Eagles didn’t feature back when they lost to the Buccaneers earlier in the season. It’s possible that Miles Sanders returns to action for this wild-card game to help solidify what has been a record-setting season on the ground for the Eagles.

As beat writer Jeff McLane notes among his five subplots to watch, the Eagles defense also faces a challenge as Jonathan Gannon gets another chance to try to contain Brady. It didn’t necessarily go well the first time around for the Eagles, but perhaps the defense’s improvement will show in this game.

As for someone on the outside of the playoffs looking in, Carson Wentz didn’t quite make it while quarterbacking the Colts this season. That helped the Eagles. Thank you, Carson Wentz.

Off the Dribble

Matisse Thybulle is emerging as one of the best defenders in the NBA this season, taking on tough assignments for the Sixers each night. He has carried the mantle of guarding the best player on the other team from Ben Simmons, who asked for a trade during the offseason and later told the team he was not mentally fit to play.

In fact, the only thing that has held Thybulle back this season is multiple stints in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. Thybulle, who has served two stretches in health and safety protocols, called his second stint “confusing” after a string of tests returned inconclusive, negative, and “random positive” made him miss two games over about a week. He explained the process to The Inquirer’s Gina Mizell.

The Sixers stayed hot Monday night, rolling past the Rockets, 111-91, in Houston for their seventh straight victory.

Next: The Sixers play the Charlotte Hornets at the Wells Fargo Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday, welcoming LaMelo Ball and Co. to town (NBCSP).

On the Fly

The Flyers are without many of their best players at the moment. But defenseman Travis Sanheim returned to practice Monday, leaving the team without captain Claude Giroux, forward Travis Konecny, and top-pair defenseman Ivan Provorov. All three players have been out for five days and could be back from COVID-19 protocols soon. The cycle hasn’t exactly ended, though, as Sanheim’s return coincided with Justin Braun’s positive coronavirus test.

Now, the COVID-19 situation for the Flyers has worsened to the point that the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at home tonight at the Wells Fargo Center has been postponed. A new date for the game has yet to be determined.

Fleet Street

El Clásico, the great rivalry match between Spain’s La Liga teams Barcelona and Real Madrid, is taking place this week as the two teams tussle in the Spanish SuperCup. What’s slightly weird is that the game is taking place in Saudi Arabia. Yet perhaps that’s no stranger than the World Cup taking place in Qatar, right?

The Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald has more info, including updates on Africa’s Cup of Nations — spoiler: no MLS team has more current players involved than the Union. Even a former Union player is a key element.

Worth a look

Greer III back in Philly: The portal is bringing a familiar name in Philadelphia basketball back home. St. Joe’s recently landed Lynn Greer III, a freshman guard from Roman Catholic High who transferred from the University of Dayton.

Hall deserving? Olivia Reiner examines the career and impact of former Flyer Rod Brind’Amour.

What you’re saying

About the Eagles’ playoff matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are a few of your predictions:

Buccaneers 23, Eagles 20 — Daniel B.

Buccaneers 27, Eagles 20 — Tom F.

Eagles 28, Buccaneers 24 Dennis K.

Trivia Tuesday

Defensive end Matt Leo, a practice squad player for the Eagles, had a different career before his NFL days.

He was: A.) a real estate agent B.) a stone mason C.) a plumber

Without relying on an online search, tell us which is correct at: sports.daily@inquirer.com

We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Josh Tolentino, Jeff McLane, Gina Mizell, Giana Han, Mike Sielski, Jonathan Tannenwald, Marcus Hayes, Olivia Reiner, and Adam Fine.