Brothers Bound by Basketball Ready for Maccabi Games
Franck Joseph, Assistant Commissioner for the New York City Commission on Human Rights (left) and Michael Cohen, Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (right) at the NYC Human Rights Commission’s Office.
By Drew Casey
The house didn't have any more room.
The only logical solution was to get a storage unit… for their trophies. 118 trophies and awards to be exact, or “dust collectors” as the family refers to them.
But, why keep them? And go to such great lengths to do so?
Bcause each reminds them of a moment in time where they can transport themselves back to an incredible memory.
Who did they play with? Who did they compete against? Who hit that big shot and sent the crowd into a frenzy?
That's the story of Joey and Albert Braha, two hoopers originally from Deal, NJ and more importantly: brothers.
“I think what we enjoy most about basketball as a whole is that we were always the brothers on each team and it was easy to create that family environment on and off the court,” Joey said as the pair gets ready for another basketball journey together.
The two are currently preparing to play for the US National Team at the upcoming 14th Pan American Maccabi Games in Mexico City. 3,500 athletes from 23 countries as well as more than 12,000 spectators and officials are expected to attend the international competition, which begins with the Opening Ceremony on July 7 in Mexico's capital city.
With eight other teammates from across the United States, the Brahas will represent their community and compete in the Master's Division for athletes 35-and-older.
“Albert and I have done it all on the basketball court,” Joey said prior to the team's second of two training camps in early June. “The only thing we haven't done, though, is win a gold medal at the Maccabi Games.”
While the “dust collectors” certainly speak to their achievement on the court, the Maccabi Games are on a different pedestal, according to Albert, the younger of the two.
“This is the elite stage for all Jewish athletes to showcase their talents. It's a blessing to be able to compete, while celebrating our shared tradition and culture.”
And with Joey's wife expecting their first child later this summer, coupled with the physical demands of preparing for the competition, this July's tournament could mark now or never in their quest for international gold.
“We wanted to give this one more shot while we can,” Albert said. “This feels like it's our last chance to go for the glory” as the two look to cap their formal playing days together.
But glory or not, you can bet the two New York City residents will enjoy playing with each other as they always have.
“Basketball is definitely a pillar of our relationship,” Joey said. “We've been playing basketball together with the same coaches and teammates since high school and college and whenever we play, our philosophy is always in sync.”
One of those coaches was Jersey Shore basketball legend Ed Zucker, who played for Rutgers in the mid-80s and led the United States National Team to a gold medal at the 1985 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Zucker, who had 30 points in the gold medal game and played overseas following his college career, later coached the Braha brothers at Hillel High School from 1998-2000.
“Joey and Albert are special not just as human beings, but their passion for basketball and Judaism over the years has led them both to play in the Pan American Maccabi Games in the past,” Zucker said.
“To come back as grown men in their late-30s is just an incredible testament to them. Their passion for basketball has never died. In fact, I think it's even greater today than it was back then.”
And Zucker knows that passion was at a high level when Albert led Hillel High School to a dramatic win in the Yeshiva League Metropolitan Championship Game 19 years ago, the last time the Heat won such a championship. To this day, Zucker and the Brahas look back on Albert's game-winning shot and MVP performance at the Meadowlands in 2000.
“It's always great to reminisce and reflect back on that particular game and the shot,” Zucker added.
“But it's really all about relationships and to be able to still have a relationship with Joey and Albert 20 years later is great. When we see each other, it's never a handshake. It's always a hug. It warms my heart.”
And that's what it's all about as Joey and Albert prepare to use their previous experiences at the international Maccabi Games to rekindle old relationships and develop new ones. Joey took home a bronze medal with Team USA in 2007 at the European Maccabi Games in Rome and the pair took home silver medals on the US National Team in 2008 in Buenos Aires.
“What begins as a competitive basketball experience becomes a journey of friendship, discovery and Jewish awareness,” Joey said of his previous experience at the international Games.
“I take so much pride in competing, because the Maccabi Games are a celebration of sports, culture and the Jewish faith. And these three characteristics have defined me throughout my life.”
The Brahas and Team USA begin competition at the Maccabi Games on July 5 in Mexico City under head coach Josh Kahane with teammates from New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Memphis.
“Where we grew up basketball is by far the most popular sport,” the brothers concluded. “We're hoping to inspire the younger generation of ballers to compete and excel beyond community play.”
If all goes well on the court, one thing's for certain: it'd be the first gold dust collector for the Braha brothers.