It’s some five hours before the big game – the semifinals of the men’s
basketball State Cup – and Maccabi Tel Aviv–Hapoel Holon scheduled matchup
announcer Niv Zahavi has just come off working the high-school handball
He’s nervous before hosting the night’s face-off, Zahavi
says, but is trying not to think about it.“I am going to go home and try
to eat something, and play soccer on Sony Playstation.” Today it is Playstation,
when he was a boy, it was Playmobil.
“I always knew I wanted to be a
sports announcer,” says Zahavi.
“When I was little I would take my
Playmobil soldiers and make them into a soccer team – one defender was
No. 1, another defender was No. 5, the scorer was No. 9 or 11. So I would
take shoes as goalposts, and marbles as balls, and I would play.”
grew older, Zahavi’s days were spent playing sports, watching sports programs
and talking sports, every opportunity he got. In high school, Zahavi took to the
court himself as a small forward in Israel’s fourth-tier League Alef for teams
like Hapoel Yeroham and Hapoel Omer.
After stints in Eilat as a singing
waiter, an extra in Habimah Theater productions and after studying things like
on-camera acting, as well as getting certified as a basketball instructor,
Zahavi says he acted on his true calling.
“I decided to go do a course on
sports announcing and writing,” he says.
With a little luck and a little
tenacity, Zahavi found himself with his first sports announcer gig – hosting the
European campaign home games of Hapoel Tel Aviv.
“I wanted to be the
announcer there, so I went and talked to the marketing manager,” he recalls,
adding that after four games he was made the team’s regular
Several years later, after a road that has taken him to Ramat
Hasharon basketball (women’s), Hapoel Holon, Bnei Hasharon and his current team
affiliation – BC Habik’a – Zahavi has established himself as a consistently
working announcer and host, covering events including basketball, soccer,
handball, volleyball and track-andfield on all levels.
“I love my job,”
he says. “I took my hobby and made it my life.”
It is now some three and
a half hours before the big game. Zahavi waits outside the Nokia Arena in Yad
The sidewalks are teeming with buses and people. Fathers with
Teenage boys in testosterone-laden packs. Cops and security
personnel. A blind beggar with a walking stick navigates the crowds surprisingly
well, asking for money. Fans are lined up at the gates, waiting to be let in.
Their colors blend into a mass of yellow and purple, yellow and blue, orange,
and light blue.
Zahavi stands out in his suit and tie.
come to sing tonight?” a security guard recognizes him and laughs as he shakes
“Actually, I’m still waiting for my pass to be let in,” Zahavi
says, shaking his head. In his hands he holds typed notes – the things he plans
to say in the introduction as he opens the game.
Every few minutes he is
on his phone, texting, checking the time.
Zahavi spends the final hours
before a game getting the latest on the team lineups – which players are
injured, which players are in. He checks out the game schedule – finds out
whether there are any notables he has to introduce, even gets updates on what
music is to be played.
Finally, Zahavi’s pass arrives. He is let into the
“I’m excited,” he admits. “If I don’t get excited before a game
like this, I won’t do well.”
Doing well means feeling the audience in the
stands – feeding off of their energy, while giving energy back.
job that brings with it its share of stress – positive and negative.
didn’t sleep well last night and I didn’t eat much today,” Zahavi
“You know you are going to get to the arena and it’s going to be
full – that in itself is exciting.”
In between greetings to various
basketball personalities, he is still glancing at his phone, at his notes. The
Hapoel Holon team arrives and is ushered in through an open gate. General
manager Pini Gershon nods in recognition, assistant coach Elad Hasin stops by to
Zahavi is in the final moments before his turn on the court.
Inside the arena, the first game of the night is well under way. Maccabi Rishon
Lezion is going head-to-head with Zahavi’s home team, Habik’a. Through the
closed doors of the stadium itself, Rishon fans can be heard thundering their
approval every time their team scores.
It is clear there is some sort of
primal dance going on – between the fans and their team, the team and the
announcer, the announcer and the fans. It goes back and forth and which comes
first is hard to say. But it is obvious the announcer is part of
“Three points!” the announcer bellows. The crowd goes
“He pushes the audience in a game, he wakes them up,” says Meir
Tapiro, a Premier League veteran currently playing point guard for Maccabi
Ashdod, when asked about the role of the game announcer. “He has a very
important part to play here – he must take control of the game, whether it’s
good or bad.”
Some fans, however, see things otherwise.
need an announcer,” 42- year-old die-hard Hapoel Holon fan Shlomi Levy says. “We
are the announcers ourselves!” His friend gives him a slap on the back in
His daughter laughs.
It is 9 p.m. and Zahavi has taken
to his small table at courtside. The arena is full almost to capacity, awash in
yellow and blue on one side, and yellow and purple on the other. Drums
People cheer. Vendors walk the aisles.
Popcorn and sunflower
seeds litter the floor. The main event is about to begin.
“Welcome to the
Nokia Sports Arena,” Zahavi begins, “to the semifinals of the Israel Cup
championships. In this game Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and Hapoel Holon
will be playing.”
He falls silent for a moment, and the crowd
roars....Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Rishon Lezion both won their games
and advanced to the Israel Cup finals, which were held after press time on
Thursday at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.
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