The Finale Of The G League Series ‘The Break’ Shows Progress Isn’t Linear

When Taylor Sharp and Holland Gallagher set out to create The Break, the series they filmed in real-time along with this past G League season, they had no idea the perfect story arcs the universe was going to present to them.

The series, produced in partnership with the G League and The General, began in early December and followed three G League players: Mac McClung, Sterling “Scoot” Henderson, and Norris Cole. The premise was simple enough, to trail each athlete through a typical G League season in order to give viewers a better sense of the highs, lows, challenges, uncertainty, and joy that goes hand in hand with playing at that level. There were underlying story beats Sharp and Gallagher wanted to trace, like Henderson’s alternate route with the G League’s own purpose-made team, Ignite, and his hope to declare for the 2023 NBA Draft. There was McClung’s journey to get into the NBA and Cole’s joining the G League as an NBA veteran.

It’s three different players at three very different points in their basketball playing careers, which was some of the logic that went into picking these three athletes as the show’s inaugural stars.

“When we set out to do this in the beginning of the season we picked three players whose seasons, we had no idea how they would go,” Sharp says over the phone, enjoying some downtime in the North Carolina countryside after wrapping editing on The Break’s season finale hours earlier. “We certainly hoped that Mac [McClung] would have an opportunity to get a call up at some point to the NBA, but we had no idea he would win the Slam Dunk Contest.”

Sharp and Gallagher were in Utah to capture McClung’s “Dunk Contest saving” win, as well as the heady afterglow McClung went through in the days that followed — McClung had so many media requests that he needed to turn down outlets like CNN. The All-Star specific episode did a wonderful job of distilling down the chaos of McClung’s weekend into quiet moments with his family in the aftermath, all of which was balanced with Henderson’s quieter, albeit still important, All-Star Weekend performance.

It’s that balance that became crucial as The Break went on, the two learned in real-time.

“You can’t be everywhere always, so really being intuitive and strategic about what shoot days to choose is something we learned over this past season,” Sharp says. “Just because we’re following three players over the stretch of a season, it was a larger stretch of time and of possibilities we had never dealt with. That was something we found a pretty good groove with.”

Sharp credits his lengthy partnership with Gallagher (the two have made some wonderful documentaries in and outside of basketball, including 2021’s Hoop Portraits) with their ability to cover the kind of ground the series required. But the pair also established close ties with their three main character’s teammates and families, plus other G League videographers, occasionally asking them to be the ones recording in moments when Sharp and Gallagher had to be elsewhere. That cooperation also wound up creating an atmosphere of collaboration and interest between the athletes involved who never all got to be together in person, but nonetheless were following along with each other’s stories throughout the season. Sharp says even Shaquille O’Neal, the series’ narrator, would pepper him and Gallagher with questions about McClung, Henderson, and Cole whenever he sat to record.

In the series’ final episode, which airs on Thursday on the G League’s YouTube channel, we see the three storylines make their necessary “end” for the show, though all skew intentionally open-ended. McClung — who had a cup of coffee this season with the Philadelphia 76ers — and the Delaware Blue Coats win the G League Finals but his goal of a longterm NBA contract remains. Henderson wraps his season at the Ignite’s end of season celebration, the team falling short of the playoffs and title as Henderson prepares for the Draft. And Cole, who wound up leaving the G League midway through the season to play in Puerto Rico for Atleticos de San German, returns to his alma mater of Cleveland State University to be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

One of the more striking parts of the finale, which has plenty of storybook moments, is how Cole’s season (and career) concluding doesn’t come to feel like a deceleration when compared to Henderson and McClung’s, who are still ramping up. Most obviously, because Cole is still playing, but on the quieter side, in how he was captured in accepting what was, to him, one of the biggest honors of his career.

“It was really beautiful to be able to capture him in a celebratory way, looking back on such an illustrious career from the roots of it at Cleveland State,” Sharp recalls. “It was fitting for us to be able to include that scene, it had much more to do with his success than possibly what happened for him in the G League season.”

Talk to anyone who covers the G League or follows it as a fan, and you’ll quickly come to understand the breadth and depth of compelling stories paired with all the athletes within its ranks. Sharp calls it a “perfect alchemy” not just for a filmmaker, but anyone with the curiosity to learn more about the people playing the sport.

“It’s not just that we haven’t heard all these stories, there’s something about the ethos and the culture of the league that to me inspires some type of wonderful alchemy of a yearning for this next step in their career, and present appreciation of where they are, it’s a nice perspective,” Sharp notes.

Part of that is due to the uncertainty of the future for these athletes and the well of perseverance required to continually “buy-in,” and part of it is due to the trajectories of each athlete being so non-linear. It’s not a comfortable concept in pro sports, that steps forward were almost always preceded by dozens of steps back, but it’s an important and humanizing one, that even Giannis Antetokounmpo alluded to in his postgame presser after the Bucks’ surprising season-ending series.

“When we get to work with G League players,” Sharp adds, “it’s almost like we’re putting something in a time capsule for them.”

That encapsulation will continue next season. The G League says it’s their intention to have Sharp and Gallagher back to record a second season of The Break, with an entirely new cast of athletes. For now, Sharp and Gallagher are enjoying some downtime to reflect, joking that it’s the closest they’ll get to what a player’s offseason feels like.