The Tony Awards: Exactly Like the NBA’s Western Conference

Photo illustration: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images

As the Tonys approach, it’s becoming clear that this is one of the most competitive awards seasons in years for plays. After years of musicals being the big dogs on Broadway, 2007–2008 saw the premieres of more than fifteen new plays and revivals, meaning that the battle for coveted Tony nominations will be fierce — in the Best Play and Best Revival categories, but also in the starry acting categories, where everyone competes against everyone else. Best Actor alone could see Kevin Kline, Brian Cox, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McShane battling it out.

To any theater fan, the logjam in the Tony play categories brings to mind nothing other than, of course, the current standings of the NBA’s Western Conference, where the top nine teams have spent the season jostling for position, and even now, only three and a half games separate first place from sixth. But which NBA team corresponds with which dramatic masterpiece? Vulture sorts it out, after the jump.

Warning: Tony recommendations not to be used for gambling purposes! For amusement only!

Photo: Joan Marcus

NBA counterpart: New Orleans Hornets

At season’s beginning, no one paid that much attention to Tracy Letts’s family drama, or to the Hornets. But all of a sudden, come the turn of the year, you couldn’t escape either: the Hornets were riding Chris Paul’s MVP numbers to the top of the West, and August was riding Charles Isherwood’s over-the-top rave to box-office success. Doubters thought both would fade — surely these small-market competitors couldn’t fight the big-money plays (and teams) down the stretch! But here we are at the end of the season, and each looks stronger than ever: The Hornets are still at the top of the standings, and August just won the Pulitzer. Much to everyone’s surprise, both are the front-runners.

NBA counterpart: San Antonio Spurs
Class. Trophies in the cabinet. A pedigree. That describes the Spurs this year, and it describes Tom Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll, the play that — going into the season — was the one to beat. Stoppard! Brian Cox! Rufus Sewell! They were the Greg Pops, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker of Broadway. Even now, it’s hard not to argue that Rock ’n’ Roll has a real shot at the title, but maybe … it was just … a little bit boring?

Photo: Manuel Harlan, Getty ImagesMACBETH

NBA counterpart: Phoenix Suns

As Mike D’Antoni’s Suns do to the NBA, BAM’s production of Macbeth brings a teensy touch of the European avant-garde to Broadway. And the addition to each’s roster of a bald-headed monster — Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth and Shaquille O’Neal — might have seemed like folly at first but now feels like genius.

NBA counterpart: Houston Rockets
Tracy McGrady, as everyone knows, is the Caryl Churchill of the NBA. Both are Hall of Fame talents who’ve never had a real shot at the biggest prize. But now Churchill’s best — and most topical — play is getting its long-overdue Broadway debut, and McGrady may have his best supporting cast ever. And both have overcome adversity! The Rockets lost Yao Ming for the season to injury, yet turned around and rattled off a 22-game win streak; and Top Girls saw the potentially disastrous reviews for Churchill’s new play, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?, turn into paeans to the production yet to come. A real Tony — and NBA title — dark horse.

NBA counterpart: Los Angeles Lakers
Sure, Conor McPherson is a star, perhaps the most brilliant pure playwright working today. But seriously — a play about a bunch of drunk guys playing poker with the Devil? Maybe this wasn’t Conor’s year. But then The Seafarer was just so damn good that it finds itself with a real shot for a title at season’s end. Kobe Bryant knows the feeling.


NBA counterpart: Utah Jazz

Sure, neither is all that exciting. Sure, both depend on stars that only squares profess to love — Kevin Kline in last fall’s revival of Cyrano, Carlos Boozer on the Jazz. But on the other hand, Jennifer Garner was way better than anyone expected — just like Deron Williams. And seriously, are you really going to count either out when push comes to shove?

Photo: Scott Landis


NBA counterpart: Dallas Mavericks

David Mamet. Mark Cuban. Joe Mantello. Avery Johnson. Nathan Lane. Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Kidd. Laurie Metcalfe. Admit it: Didn’t you think both the Mavericks and November were going to be a lot better than they actually were?

NBA counterpart: Golden State Warriors
Despite a star in Baron Davis, Golden State has never been able to truly catch on this year — with NBA fans, or in the tough Western Conference. Currently they find themselves in ninth place, just out of the playoffs — much as, we worry, the Raúl Esparza–led Homecoming will be, as audiences never seemed to fall in love with the chilly Pinter revival.

Photo: Joan Marcus, Getty ImagesCOME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA

NBA counterpart: Denver Nuggets

In the end, despite decent supporting casts, both this winter’s revival of Little Sheba and the Nuggets are one-performer shows, with S. Epatha Merkerson and Carmelo Anthony both bearing heavy dramatic loads. It’s hard to imagine either going very far in the final competition, but it won’t be for lack of individual brilliance.

NBA counterpart: Los Angeles Clippers
Everything seemed like it was going to work out so well for Aaron Sorkin and the Clips, both beloved L.A. hard-luck stories. Turned out it didn’t. Maybe next year!

The Tony Awards: Exactly Like the NBA’s Western Conference