For the past eight days, Jews around the world have been publicizing the Chanukah miracle. But when it comes to getting the world excited about the Maccabees, no one does that better than Akiva Poppers.
“It’s the ultimate underdog story,” proclaims Poppers.
But Poppers isn’t just talking about the ancient Maccabees. Poppers is the voice of the modern-day Maccabees. He’s the student play-by-play announcer for Yeshiva University’s men’s basketball team, which has become one of the greatest success stories in all of college sports.
Comparing the Chanukah Maccabees to the YU Maccabees, Poppers says, “It’s guys wearing yarmulkes, strings sticking out of their pockets. You wouldn’t expect them to win.” But they win almost every single time. Last season, the Maccabees went 29-1 and won their first two games of the NCAA Division 3 Tournament before the season came to a sudden end because of Covid.
“Instead of other teams saying, ‘there’s that Jew team over there,’ now we’re the ones everyone looks up to, both on a local and a national level.”
For that, the team should credit Poppers, who’s now in his third-year at YU. He’s the Executive Producer and play-by-play announcer for MacsLive, the streaming network, which covers the team’s games for thousand of fans around the world, most whom are Orthodox. “Those guys do a fantastic job,” says Coach Elliot Steinmetz of Macs Live. “What I love, it’s not just the platform. There’s a passion. They’re into it. They prepare. They prepare before the game and after the game.”
The players have such an appreciation for MacsLive, they invited Poppers to take the team bus to the games. “I feel like I’m part of the team,” says Poppers, “and I think the team feels that way too.”
There’s a good reason for that mutual respect. More than 17,000 computer screens tuned into the final game of the season on MacsLive. That’s a lot of Orthodox basketball fans. “It’s been awesome to get that exposure and have a real media platform,” said Coach Steinmetz. “I get phone calls and emails from different countries around the world. There’s a pride in what we’re doing. And [in] what our guys have accomplished.”
What Poppers has accomplished as an Executive Producer and announcer is beyond impressive. He knows the game inside and out. He’s become a pro at video production. In fact, he would love to make a career of it. But there’s one condition: “If someone offered me a job, I would take it. As long as I [can still] keep Shabbos,” he says.
Which raises this question: Is it tough for Poppers, as such a rabid sports fan, to miss so many big games each Saturday? “Am I itching to hear what happens? Yes,” he admits. “But Shabbos is different. There are six days and then there’s one day when you put everything aside. While I want to know what’s going on, I don’t have as much of a desire as you would think.”
Once Shabbos is finished, Poppers is back at work, preparing for his next broadcast. “I have lots of late nights. Not a lot of free time,” he says. “But it’s great. It’s an incredible experience.”
And it’s only going to get better. Last month, Macs Live secured $47,000 of funding for new broadcast equipment. “It’s by far the greatest step we’ve ever taken,” says Poppers. “Our video quality going forward will blow all preconceptions out of the water, and the switch to a multi-camera setup is an absolute game-changer.”
Talk about great timing. The Macs 2020-2021 season was pushed back to January because of Covid. Coach Steinmetz says this year’s team is as good as last year’s. Thanks to MacsLive, a lot of people will be watching.
But more than great basketball coverage, Poppers says MacsLive’s ultimate success is fostering Orthodox Jewish pride.
“That’s what we bring to the fans,” he says. “You’re part of the Jewish team. We’re building something more than winning championships.”