There is a scene in the movie “Airplane” that goes like this: 

Flight Attendant: Would you like something to read?
Passenger: Do you have anything light?
Flight Attendant: How about this leaflet, “Famous Jewish Sports Legends?”

While recounting this scene always seems to elicit a chuckle, this stereotype has existed in popular culture for nearly a century. But this is largely untrue, as great athletes like Hank Greenberg (baseball), Sandy Koufax (baseball), Benny Friedman (football), Sid Luckman (football) and Barney Ross (boxing) have had great impact on and off the field. 

Brandeis has had its share of great athletes through the decades, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and it should be a point of pride when any athlete from Brandeis has transcended the proverbial sporting mountaintop. While it may be difficult to single out any one athlete for their accomplishment, here are three that have made significant contributions in the last 25 years. As we celebrate reunion weekend, let us a take a moment to appreciate some of the sporting accomplishments of our alumni. 

Nelson Figueroa ’98

On June 3, 2000, Nelson Figueroa finished his warm-up pitches in the bullpen in Arlington, Texas, and took the long walk to the dugout. His team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, were in town for an interleague contest, and Figueroa was preparing to pitch and help his team try to win the game. This routine occurs daily during the Major League Baseball season, but for Nelson, it was different. For him, it was his Major League debut. While a big accomplishment for any player, this time it was more than that. This game marked the first time that a Brandeis graduate played in a Major League game. It was history in the making for a Division III school to have a graduate pitch in a regular season Major League baseball game. 

On that day, Nelson threw 93 pitches for 57 strikes and gave up four earned runs as his team lost 4–3. He would pitch twice more that season before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He earned his first victory a month later and finished the year with a 1–2 record. 

Figueroa grew up a New York Mets fan, and his childhood dream came true when the Mets drafted him in the 30th round in 1995 Major League Draft. In a nine-year career, he pitched for six teams, including the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros. He also pitched in the Taiwan League and represented Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. For his career, he won 20 games, lost 35 and had a 4.55 era. 

Tim Morehouse ’00

Tim Morehouse is the most accomplished fencer in Brandeis history. However, it did not start that way for Tim. A New York native, Tim attended Riverdale Country School and only took up fencing as a way to get excused from gym class. The ruse worked, and his new pastime caught on. In his junior and senior years of high school, he captained the school’s fencing team and was named the team’s most valuable player. 

While at Brandeis, Tim enjoyed a stellar collegiate career. In his final three years, he was ranked in the Top 10 of the NCAA’s Division I men’s sabre. An All-American each of those three years, he led the Judges to be ranked tenth among all Division I schools in 2000. Also that year, he was named the NCAA’s men’s sabre Fencer of the Year. 

Upon graduation, Tim continued fencing and became a three-time member of the United States Fencing Team at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He earned a Silver Medal in the men’s saber team event at the 2008 Olympics. He is also a nine-time senior world team member and two-time individual U.S. National Champion (2010, 2011). He was a teacher in the Teach for America program, was honored by the White House as a “Champion for Change” in 2012 and now operates Morehouse Fencing Club in New York. 

Kenny Graves ’08

Basketball has enjoyed a successful history at Brandeis for many decades. Both the men’s and women’s teams have made successful runs in the NCAA tournament within the last decade. Furthermore, there has been a strong connection between the school and the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association. After retiring from his Hall of Fame career with the Celtics, K.C. Jones began his coaching career at Brandeis, and he was soon followed by Bob Brannum, another former Celtics player. Former Brandeis players have also been drafted by the Celtics. When the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center opened on campus, the basketball court was named after Red Auerbach, the Celtics’ former coach and general manager. 

Kenny Graves is the next in a long line of Brandeis-Celtics connections. While at Brandeis, Graves double majored in American Studies and Sociology, and when he graduated, he left as the school’s all-time assist leader with 473 assists. Graves, who was born Kwame Graves-Fulgham, was a member of the men’s basketball team that advanced to the NCAA Division III Elite Eight during the 2007–08 season. It was the beginning of a renaissance for the team that made the second round the following year and then a return trip to the Elite Eight in 2009–10. 

After his playing career, Graves began the long climb up the ranks of working for a professional team. He began as an video coordinator/assistant basketball development intern with the Celtics in 2008–09. After two years, he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers for a season before returning to Causeway Street. He has served as head video coordinator and coaching associate before being promoted to director of Player Development for the 2018–2019 season. In 2013, he was an assistant coach for the Celtics summer league team. He has also been on the staff of Great Britain’s senior men’s program. 

—Douglas Stark ’94, is the author of several basketball books including “The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team”; “Wartime Basketball: The Emergence of a National Sport during World War II”; “When Basketball Was Jewish: Voices of Those Who Played the Game” and “Breaking Barriers: A History of Integration In Professional Basketball”; and is the co-author of the children’s book “Shikey Gotthoffer.”