Discover more from The Finder With Tom Haberstroh
Welcome To The Finder With Tom Haberstroh
Uncovering the thing in basketball and beyond
I grew up in a family of six, the youngest of four children. Turns out, in a family of six piled on top of each other, you tend to lose a lot of stuff.
My dad’s keys — that was a big one. A wallet here, a pair of glasses there. Oh god, the remote control. We lost it so many times, we almost glued the damn thing to the table. (Did you name your remote controller? The Haberstrohs called it “The Zapper.”).
I came to find out that people hated to look for things. Who wants to endure an indefinite number of hours (days?) shamefully looking for that thing. No one wants to do that. So whattya do? Ya make Tom go find it.
That became my job in my house. Whenever something gets “misplaced” you call little-5-year-old-me into the room. I was pretty good at this task. So good, in fact, that after a while, Mom nicknamed me The Finder. That was me.
It was a devious trick, really. Here I was thinking I was this superhero – the Superman of turning lost into found. “Tom, we got a job for you! Steve lost his YMCA card!” And off I’d go.Yay, a new mission! I’ve got it! Little did I know that, most of the time, they were just … lazy.
Well, the name stuck. The Finder. I carried the superpower throughout my childhood, giving me a sense of identity inside the classroom and out in the wild. Scavenger hunts were my jam. Writing a 30-page senior year research paper, man, that didn’t feel like work at all. Lucky me, it turns out that finding things no one else can find is an employable skill. My first job out of college was a researcher for ESPN. It paid $12 an hour, technically at a temp agency, no benefits. My job: go find things. And fast.
The Finder With Tom Haberstroh is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my Findings, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
No one wants to live at home after college, but the gig was too good to pass up. This was ESPN in 2008 and I was in. Oh, Scott Van Pelt needed a juicy stat about Jim Edmonds’ fielding prowess in 47 seconds before we’re back from commercial? Don’t worry, I got it! ESPN The Magazine needs a list of every San Antonio Spurs second-round draft pick since 1989? I am on it. Jayson Stark once referred to me as “research genius Tom Haberstroh” in an ESPN.com baseball column. I think I floated on air for about six days.
I landed at ESPN because I started a little sports blog in college, “Tom’s Bombs of Thought.” I researched tons of stuff, and eventually, it caught the eye of some ESPN folks. I had a knack for finding the angle or the stat that proved too elusive or maybe too radioactive to others. Research assignments quickly turned into a beat-reporting job covering LeBron James’ first season with the Miami Heat (long live the Heat Index!), and that quickly turned into magazine writing.
Five years after the hourly-wage temp gig at ESPN, I wrote the cover story for ESPN The Magazine. My assignment: figure out how the hell Kawhi Leonard became the best player in the NBA. I called around, and discovered he had the most efficient moving patterns anyone the sports science community had ever seen. Not a wasted step in his on-court choreography, Kawhi was a basketball Terminator. If you optimized software for navigating 94 feet of hardwood, that was Kawhi. Mystery solved.
Why did homecourt advantage go the way of the payphone? That mystery led me on a scavenger hunt in ESPN The Magazine that people still ask me about: The Tinderization of The NBA — the hidden trend of stars playing better on the road because they could, well, UBER for sex. Wanna get laid? No need to go to the club – poisoning the body with alcohol until sunrise and depleting their natural PED, sleep – anymore. Get it on, get to bed early, get right for work tomorrow. Over a million people read that feature. A statistical quirk about homecourt advantage ended up capturing something much larger, something much sexier.
Along the way, I found the NBA locker room to be something of a haven of closely-held secrets. What’s that bootleg strobe-light goggle on Steph Curry’s shelf and why did it mysteriously vanish off the market? The answer got dark quickly; it involved a Nike exec pleading guilty to five counts of attempted aggravated murder.
Did you know that LeBron James and other superstars are so obsessive about their bottled water brand that they have to shield its label with surgical tape so as to not offend seven-figure sponsorship partners? And that there’s such a thing as a water sommelier. (He’s quite delightful, actually).
I also noticed players were ditching Bojangles fried chicken for meatless Beyond Burgers, which led me to this mystery: why are so many NBA players taking Kyrie Irving’s lead and going vegan? And is ditching animal-based proteins a good thing for a professional athlete? The answers to those questions got me an APSE writing award.
If you’re like me, you love a good ol’ fashioned mystery. To this day, corners of the NBA world remain hidden in shadows, none more so than the refereeing profession.
The Tim Donaghy scandal was recent. Get this: there are still players in the NBA that have been officiated by the disgraced NBA referee. Lately, I’ve busted out my shovel to dig into referees and those findings sometimes go viral: NBA assigns its most premium officials to, you guessed it, the big-market teams. Other mysteries have caught my attention. Does the NBA keep certain officials away from certain players/teams? Should they? Does the NBA care about its conflicts of interest? Time to find some answers.
That’s what this Substack is about. It’s the mantra that X-Files heads and listeners of my weekly podcast Basketball Illuminati on Meadowlark Media know: the truth is out there … you just have to go find it. You have to have the right tools and a certain level of curiosity to venture into the unknown.
I’m going to attempt to tackle some of the most vexing mysteries of sport. Why does it seem that athletes are always injured? Why do so many NBA power brokers share the same last name? Why aren’t teams allowed to blow the whistle on referees? Why do so many widely held beliefs – who’s clutch, who’s a winner and who’s a choke artist – wilt under sunlight?
I’ve come to learn that there’s an added benefit of embarking on these truth-seeking journeys: the discovery of cutting-edge tech that has helped teams and players push the boundaries of their own performance. Example: While digging into the load-management movement (we’re sorry about that), I received a tip that players were secretly (and illegally) hiding WHOOP fitness straps under their sweatbands to track their physical strain during NBA games. That’s just one gadget I’ve covered along the way. SportVU, Catapult, Noah, Fansure, RSPCT and HomeCourt AI are some of the others. One aim of this space will be to provide subscribers with a deep catalog of sports tech that insiders are using, maybe you’ll find some use of that, too.
I miss the deep-dive mystery pieces that used to be a staple of the sports media landscape. ESPN The Magazine shuttered in 2019. A year later, B/R Mag folded, too. Hell, the New York Times just shuttered its sports desk. From where I sit, the market for the written word is experiencing an overcorrection.
My suspicion is that in this very moment, as you’re reading this now, you feel sick of all the social media candy. You crave something that lasts. Something that stays with you. The hope is that many of you will meet a bunch of like-minded, hungry readers here. I want to build a community of Finders. A wise person told me this should be The Finder With Tom Haberstroh, not By Tom Haberstroh. I like that.
After about two years away from the writing space, it’s time for a return to Tom’s Bombs of Thought. This time, we’re under a new name, the ol’ one my mama gave me. What will we discover before everybody else?
Let’s find out.
Welcome to The Finder.
Find the thing.