76ers' Daryl Morey mixes basketball with shot at Broadway in absurdist musical 'Small Ball'

Philadelphia 76ers President Daryl Morey is the executive producer of a basketball-themed musical called “Small Ball.”

Dan Gelston
Thursday 14 December 2023 17:41 GMT
76ers-Morey’s Musical Basketball
76ers-Morey’s Musical Basketball (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Off Broadway and right off Broad Street, Daryl Morey composed an offbeat kind of basketball roster. Bird, Magic, even Phil Jackson made the cut, only in Morey’s world they are 6-inch Lilliputians, rather than giants in NBA history.

Yes, the team is even led by Michael Jordan.

Just not THAT Michael Jordan, a running gag in an absurdist musical comedy orchestrated in large part by Morey. The team president of the Philadelphia 76ers, Morey grew up considering a career in musical theater. Maybe write some Broadway smash hits. He even sketched out a draft for a basketball-themed musical — an idea hatched years ago when he connected with a theater company in Houston.

“That theater I was working with approached me and said, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do a musical?’” Morey said. “Yeah, sure, I have an outline of something that might be fun. Then we very smartly threw out my outline.”

From the ashes of Morey’s proposed book came “Small Ball,” about a small team with big basketball dreams set on the fictional Lilliput island out of “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Morey is an executive producer. Mickle Mahler wrote the book and lyrics. Merel Van Dijk and Anthony Barilla composed the music. The show was previously staged in Houston — where Morey formerly ran the Rockets — and Denver. It ran this week at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Philadelphia with plans in motion to give it a longer run at the theater — and perhaps beyond — down the line.

“We get closer to New York each time,” Morey said laughing. “Musicals, for those who are real fans, take a real long time.”

Morey noted the Tony winner “Hadestown” as an example of the long road to its 2019 Broadway debut after a start in a small town in Vermont in 2006. Morey has been credited as a producer on Broadway shows, including “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Parade.”

“I could win any sort of musical theater trivia,” Morey said. “That’s sort of an embarrassing fact for myself.”

The Lilliputians named Bird and Magic and Pippin (spelled like the 1972 musical, not the former Chicago Bull) help lure a Michael Jordan to the island as they try to join an international basketball league. One problem, it’s not the actual Michael Jordan. Just a player with the same name.

Colby Lewis, who starred as Jordan, said he was a “washed-up basketball” player whose claim to fame was shutting down Stephen Curry in North Carolina High School basketball games. He's since made guest appearances on shows such as “Blue Bloods” and “Law & Order” and enjoyed the chance to return to — though fictional — his basketball roots.

“It’s a fantastical comedy about grief, about what’s possible, and I think how the things we love like basketball affect how we process life,” he said. “It’s unique in the way it brings a lot of unseemingly correlated elements together. If I had a theme for it, figuring it out is what most of us are doing.”

The acts are designed to mimic NBA press conferences.

“First you lose/Then they make you talk about your losing. First you fail/Then they make you say just how you failed,” notes one song’s lyrics.

76ers general manager Elton Brand attended Wednesday’s staged reading of the musical. Missing? 76ers coach Nick Nurse — who did have to coach the team in Detroit — but recently noted Philadelphia’s sports fans are so passionate because, “there’s not too many people talking about what musical is coming to town next week.”

Morey, who lives about a block away from Philadelphia’s theater district, said he’d like to get Nurse to a performance.

“His tongue was firmly in cheek with that, I think. I think,” Morey said, laughing. “Philadelphia, we’re spunky. We beat up on the New York sports teams. Maybe they do pretty well in theater. Who knows where it will go next.”

Maybe basketball will bounce Morey to Broadway, after all.

“It kind of fits my personality,” Morey said. “Cool but different. Maybe just different.”


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