P.J. Murphy and Tom Haberstroh met at a Lou Gehrig Day baseball game in Cincinnati in 2021. They quickly realized they had two big things in common – a love for the game of basketball and loved ones affected by ALS. This chance meeting would eventually lead to the founding of Hoops4ALS – a new organization that aims to bring ALS awareness and fundraising to basketball, much in the way that Lou Gehrig Day did for baseball.

P.J. and Andy Murphy

P.J., who works as Chief Public Affairs officer at the Ohio University, was introduced to the world of ALS in 2019 when his brother Andy was diagnosed with the disease. P.J and Andy both shared a lifelong love of basketball – the first item they decided to check off their bucket list after Andy’s diagnosis was a trip to the Big 10 college basketball tournament. They both played the game in high school, and Andy worked as a student basketball manager at Indiana University under legendary head coach Bob Knight.

In his time at IU, Andy had made deep connections with several IU basketball players, as well as other students who worked for the team – many of whom went on to careers in coaching. This included his roommate Michael Lewis, a 4-year IU player who is now the head coach at Ball State University. Michael leveraged his media connections to help spread awareness of Andy’s diagnosis and helped a GoFundMe to support his medical expenses raise almost $80,000. Inspired by how Michael had used his platform to raise awareness of Andy’s ALS, Andy and PJ began to think about how they could do something similar. 

“When I saw what Michael was doing, I thought, ‘This is inspiring to me,’” says PJ. “I want to work with this game that I've always been passionate about to publicize our fight, using basketball and using people's platforms that would be willing to lend them to us.”

Around this time, they also became aware of another model of the possibilities of combining ALS awareness and sports – the then-newly launched baseball event, Lou Gehrig Day.

Tom Haberstroh                                                   

While Andy and PJ were thinking about how to use their basketball connections to raise ALS awareness, Tom Haberstroh was simultaneously conceiving a similar idea. Tom had already been involved in multiple successful ALS campaigns since his mother, Patty, was diagnosed with the disease in 2017. His family helped organize the #ALSPepperChallenge, which raised nearly $1 million for research at the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI). Along with his brothers Steve and Chuck, he was also instrumental in founding Lou Gehrig Day as a member of the Lou Gehrig Day Committee.

Tom’s greatest love in sports, however, is basketball. He has spent more than a decade covering the NBA as a broadcaster and writer, currently working as an analyst for the Portland Trailblazers and writing about the NBA on Substack. Tom says that his mother was instrumental in forging his love of the game – which made moving into basketball after the success of Lou Gehrig day in baseball a natural progression.

“My mom loved basketball,” he says. “She was the loudest woman in the gym. You could always hear her cheering on my brothers and me. So, moving into the basketball space was always in the back of my mind.”

Founding Hoops for ALS

PJ, Andy, and Tom had the same vision, but they didn’t know it yet – until, by chance, they ran into each other at a Lou Gehrig Day game in 2021.

“I was wearing one of those number four Lou Gehrig Day hats,” remembers PJ. “And Tom just happened to come up to me and say, ‘thanks for supporting the cause.’ I said, ‘hey, you're Tom Haberstroh.’ I knew he was on the Lou Gehrig Day Committee and had ties to basketball. So, I said, ‘my brother's here, and we want to talk to you about doing something like this for basketball.’ If we had a napkin to write on, we probably would have written it all out on the back of a napkin then and there.”

Soon after, they began working to put together a group of people from the basketball and ALS communities to make their idea a reality. They settled on the name Hoops4ALS – the “4” is a subtle nod to the organization’s roots in Lou Gehrig Day. They gathered a committee that included PJ, Andy, Tom and his brother Chuck, fellow Lou Gehrig day committee member Adam Wilson, national NBA reporters Kate Fagan and Marc Spears, and one particularly key ally – Jeff Capel.

Jeff is the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh Men’s Basketball Team and a former Duke Basketball player. He is also a dedicated ALS advocate, having lost his father to the disease. In the past, he had spoken about ALS during games and broadcasts, and his use of his platform to raise awareness was another of PJ and Andy’s original inspirations.

As a member of the Hoops4ALS team, Jeff was instrumental in organizing the program’s first two games, which took place on January 9th and 20th of 2024 – both between his Pittsburgh team and his alma mater, Duke. These games provided a far-reaching platform to spread Hoops4ALS’ message of ALS awareness and get the program off the ground, says Tom.

“That the first Hoops4ALS games involved Duke, one of the most storied programs in the nation, and Jeff Capel’s Pitt team, was more than we ever could have dreamed,” he says. “We were able to raise money for research and raise awareness about ALS through the Jeff Capel story and connect with a lot of people in the Duke and Pitt community.”

The Hoops4ALS crew worked with both teams to make sure ALS awareness and fundraising would be central to the games. Each team came out on the court wearing custom Hoops4ALS warm-up jerseys. The coaches wore Hoops4ALS pins throughout the games. At the Duke home game, ALS advocates Andrea Lytle Peet and David Peet and researcher Dr. Richard Bedlack gave halftime speeches about the disease and the importance of funding treatments. For the Pitt home game, Coach Capel gave a televised interview about Hoops4ALS and his own personal ALS story. At several points during both games, a QR code was shared on the stadium jumbotron where attendees could donate to support ALS research.

I'm appreciative of the work that Pitt and Duke did,” says PJ, “but we tried to make that work as minimal as possible and make it as seamless as we could for the schools to host these games. I think the biggest thing they're doing for us is lending us the platform and giving us the eyes that are watching their game.”

Plans for the Future of Hoops4ALS

Hoops4ALS is still a young organization, and the exact format for future games and programs is still a work in progress. Since the Duke and Pitt games, there has been one additional Hoops4ALS event, at a game between Stillwater and Mounds View high schools in Minnesota – the funds from which went to support research at ALS TDI. Several other events are in the works and will be announced in the coming months. Tom and PJ have ambitious plans for the growth of the program, including potentially expanding to NBA games, or hosting an annual invitational college tournament.

They hope that, eventually, Hoops4ALS could be as prominent a name in basketball as Lou Gehrig Day is in baseball. It’s a goal they’re dedicated to bringing to fruition in memory of everyone they’ve lost to the disease – to honor both their fight against ALS and their love for the game of basketball.

Adam Wilson, who was on our committee, passed away the day before the first game,” says PJ. “Tom's mom passed away within a week of my brother passing away. Kate lost her father. The Capels lost their father. I think of all these people who we've lost, who all had ALS in common, but they also all had that passion for basketball. This is all for them. We wouldn't be doing what we're doing if it wasn't for them.”

To learn more about Hoops4ALS and how you can get involved, click here.

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