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Motez Bishara saw many basketball games across the United States but had to settle for television coverage of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. Joe Skipper / Reuters
Motez Bishara saw many basketball games across the United States but had to settle for television coverage of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. Joe Skipper / Reuters

One fan travels to find just the ticket in the NBA's basketball games

Motez Bishara's love affair with the sport blossomed in 1989 when he moved to Boston. It is an affair that continues two decades later, writes Ali Khaled.

Basketball and road trips. You would be hard pressed to find two more quintessentially American activities.

They are also the central themes of a recent book by the Kuwaiti author and basketball fanatic Motez Bishara called Beating The NBA: Tales from a Frugal Fan.

As the title suggests, it is the story of how Bishara, disillusioned with the high pricing of tickets for NBA games, set about beating the system by trawling online ticket agencies and haggling with touts outside arenas as tip-off time approached.

As he travelled the length of the United States in search of action, Bishara, 42, a portfolio manager, used all his professional skills to get the best deals in town.

His inherently Arabic instinct to haggle helped, too.

"The flights were too frequent to count. The car rides were too long, and the train rides were too bumpy," he says in the book. "But all that arduous travel [was] in an effort to show my fellow sports fans that there's a way around the rip-offs put in front of us by sports teams."

Bishara was born in Kuwait but lived in New York from the age of one to 11. It was when he returned to Kuwait that he took an interest in basketball.

"A friend turned me onto it when I was 12, but the NBA had yet to truly take off as a global and marketing phenomenon," he says of the passion that would grow during his high school years.

"Larry Bird was one of my favourite players and, of course, when Michael Jordan joined [the league] in 1984, the NBA really took off."

But his love affair with the game, blossomed in 1989 when he moved to Boston to attend college and was able to watch games live.

It is an affair and a journey that continues two decades later.

His story veers from the serious to the light-hearted.

There is the flawed nature of season-ticket pricing and NBA franchises' complicity in secondary selling markets.

"Dynamic pricing", that is, changing of rates throughout the season depending on team performances, is one way of ensuring fans do not get a raw deal, and more and more teams are getting on board. After all, Bishara reasons, it is a model long used successfully by airlines and hotels.

But the fun starts when he is searching the internet for the best deals or haggling outside arenas.

There is the advert on Craigslist site by a recently dumped man offering a free ticket to single women willing to join him on a date.

Or the negotiations and transactions with shady characters hanging around matches.

The real joy for Bishara, however, came in the form of the people he met on the road.

"I found Americans to be super friendly. I travelled a lot and most airports have sports bars where you can grab some food and watch the game," he says. "I ended up chatting to some very colourful people about sports and local culture, whether in LA, Oklahoma or Memphis.

"Many would light up when I told them about the book, and you'd end up talking for about 30 minutes at a time with regular people."

All that time spent in airport lounges and on the road inevitably brought him in contact with like-minded people.

"I met a guy who works in lighting events, and he had just returned from the Super Bowl," Bishara said of one encounter at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. "This guys spends about 300 days on the road so we ended up talking about relationships and how difficult it is to settle down." Occasionally, those random encounters would develop into real friendships.

"I met a guy in LA who was a Sikh, although he always wore a baseball cap, not a turban; a huge Lakers fan who had given up his season ticket because it had become too much hassle," Bishara said.

"I approached him on the street for a ticket, and it turns out he was an expert on haggling, and he knew all the scalpers."

With neither man wanting to sit alone, they entered the arena together and from that day they have remained friends.

These days, Bishara lives in London.

Does he still follow the NBA?

"All the time," he said. "I often stay up until four or five in the morning, especially for the play-offs, and, like, for the recent final" between Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs.

Although he misses his regular dose of live basketball, he has found a more than adequate substitute in following his favourite football team, Arsenal.

"I go all the time," he said. "I just love the energy of being at sporting events."

Ironically, having mastered the art of haggling for the best seat in the house, he has no real use for it for now. Bishara is a season-ticket holder at Emirates Stadium.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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