“It’s like you’ve lived a million lives,”
I say to Motez Bishara, as he shifts comfortably onto his seat. I was lucky enough to catch Motez during a transitionary period, where he had just emerged from what he described as one of the busiest past few months of his life. “My last week in London, I had taken on a job with ESPN to cover NBA week, and so I was writing 5-6 articles that week alone, and had a day to find a sublet for my apartment, pack and get my dog to Kuwait with me. I haven’t had a moment to breathe since then.”
But even as he seems flustered, there’s a gleam in his eye suggesting that he wouldn’t have his life any other way. That the life of journalism is a whirlwind one worth living – which is why he replies to my statement with “and I hope to live many more”.
Motez Bishara: journalist and feature writer by profession, storyteller by passion. The Kuwaiti-born New Yorker and sports and music enthusiast’s work has appeared on the pages of CNN International, ESPN, Al Jazeera, and The Blizzard. Motez has also just completed 16 weeks teaching journalism at GUST, and has a published book out as well as another on the way. The list is long, not unlike Motez’s career in the field. “I actually started off my career in Finance,” he tells me between sips of his tepid Nespresso.
“But right after obtaining my MBA [at Tulane University in New Orleans], I came back to Kuwait and worked a side job at Kuwait Television co-hosting a show called On Screen.” It was during that time that Motez had been bitten by the journalism bug, falling in love with the newsroom, the cameras, “everything. The backstage of it all, I was just hooked. I knew I wanted to work in journalism and after 8 years of working in the field, I took a sabbatical to get my Master of International Journalism at City University in London.”
After receiving his Master’s degree, Motez continued to write on a freelance basis while working at the same company for about 8 years. By then, however, Motez was getting enough work to pursue journalism full time, and had written and published his first novel, Beating the NBA: Tales From a Frugal Fan (2013). “It’s funny, I never thought I’d write a book, but was inspired to do it after meeting someone who had predicted I would one day be a published author.”
But the ultimate inspiration came from an article he’d read about, where a writer had visited all the NBA arenas and ranked them. “I like to think I’m street smart, so I thought to myself ‘I could beat that’, and created a repertoire on different shows, concerts and games I’d been to while making deals on the tickets.” This resulted in 25 or so chapters where each excursion tells an in-depth story highlighting the experiences of unforgettable moments he’s shared with friends, family and even strangers on bleachers and seats.
“When you buy a spare ticket, you usually end up with someone sitting alone (at a seated event) – someone whose friend etc. couldn’t make it. Once, I went to a Miami Heat game and got to sit in the “Friends and Family” section because the guy who’d sold me the ticket was one of the players’ cousins. There’s always an interesting story to tell behind these experiences.”
Motez’s writing style is eclectic, giving him the self-proclaimed title as a “generalist”, somebody who, as a feature writer, is able to cover anything and everything. But his most recognized works heavily nod towards sports writing, specifically about players and their personalities and perils off court and field. One of his more memorable stories is Son of the King. Published in The Blizzard, it was an in-depth feature following the legendary Brazil player Pele’s son Edinho’s legal issues.
His panache for storytelling was such a success in this piece, that it landed him an honorary mention by the Goalden Times for its WorldBall list of best football writing of 2017. On top of that, he has a Drum Online Media Award under his belt for Best Freelance Writer, and a 2015 nomination for a Sports Media Pearl Award for his article “Wimbledon: Below the top 10, a life of budget dwellings and last-minute deals”. Clearly, he’s managed to find his forte.
But as soccer-enthusiasts who are anticipating the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we cannot help but press for details, asking him to share snippets of those he has interviewed. He graciously obliges, hinting at Ronaldo’s tax affairs, England manager’s Sam Allardyce’s entrapment issues, and former two-time Chelsea Player of the Year Pat Nevin’s moonlighting hobby as a DJ – an interview straight out of his sophomore title, Athletes Who Rock.
The book is an expansion from features about athletes and their musical careers, forming a kinship to what his two greatest passions are: sports and music. But it doesn’t stop there with Motez, as he’s keen to keep adding to the list of amazing people he’s met.
“I’d love to one day interview LeBron James, because I have so much respect for him.” And what about Mo Salah, who will be playing for Egypt’s team in this year’s World Cup? “I think Mo Salah is great! But, I’d like to wait and let life sink in before I interview him. He’s so young! I’ll let [CNN’s] Becky Anderson have him right now.” We wouldn’t expect any less from a storyteller.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL QUESTIONNAIRE
What do you most value in your friends?
Two things: dependability and a sense of humor.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Reading a great magazine article or book on my sofa to go with my morning coffee, with acoustic music playing in the background and my dog Floyd collapsed by my side.
What is your greatest fear?
Probably losing any more musical legends anytime soon. It’s inevitable, but losing Tom Petty and Prince in back-to-back years was a double gut-punch.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I can be brutally honest sometimes.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Self-righteousness. The lack of listening to other people’s opinions and considering they have valid points. That and dishonesty, which go hand in hand.
Which living person do you most admire?
Barak Obama. And, of course, my dad.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Every once in a while, I will splurge on taking business class on a long flight. Fifteen hours of getting pampered on BA is not a bad thing.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Ones that I probably shouldn’t say publicly.
What is it that you most dislike?
I cannot stand watered down liquid soap. It completely does my head in. Why do people do that?
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to work on my singing, songwriting, and guitar soloing.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
I’m already doing what I love, which is feature writing and journalism. You can’t ask for more than that.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
I just finished teaching a newswriting course to 54 students at GUST. Seeing their faces after I publish their work, and witnessing their writing and reporting skills develop is so rewarding.
What is your most treasured possession?
My Martin D-35 vintage acoustic guitar, which I got in Nashville a few years ago.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Probably my unshakable New York accent, along with wearing baseball caps most days.
Where would you most like to live?
Venice Beach, California, and Paris – at least for six to 12 months, to play music and write.
What are your favorite words to live by?
Always make the extra effort.
For more on Motez Bishara, visit his website and portfolio at www.motezbishara.com. Photos by bazaar staff.