One of the most compelling things about the G League are the engrossing and completely unique stories behind every athlete. There are players on two-way contracts, called up sometimes within hours of an NBA game to be available for their parent team’s roster. There are young athletes vying to forge a path into the league via alternatives to college like the G League’s own Ignite, veterans who’ve already had NBA careers opting to continue playing as anchors of G League rosters, players who’ve landed spots in open team tryouts, and so many other scenarios.
For filmmakers like Taylor Sharp, it’s a dream as much as it is a near impossibility to zero in and highlight every story the G League holds. Still, Sharp, along with his production partner Holland Randolph Gallagher, have been entrusted with these stories before and have joined with the G League again to showcase three different journeys in an attempt to paint a real-time portrait of the landscape of the league as a whole.
“The Break” is an eight part docuseries that follows three players — Mac McClung, Scoot Henderson, and Norris Cole — through the current G League season, sharing in their highs, lows, and hopes. So far, two of the eight episodes have been released.
While the G League, Sharp, and Gallagher were aligned on the cross-section of athletes they wanted to include to show “really different versions of a G League experience,” Sharp says, there were still major challenges.
“We had to wait until kind of the last second to make decisions,” Sharp recalls over the phone, just having returned from the G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas. “Cause you don’t know exactly — is Mac gonna make the Warriors, or is he going to be in the G League? Which veterans are gonna decide to be in the league?”
That roving sense of possibility can be disorienting, as McClung eludes to in the second episode. In its opening scene, McClung is driving to the Delaware Blue Coats practice facility ahead of the team’s training camp.
“I hate when people are like, ‘Stay ready, he’s staying ready,’” McClung intones, one hand on the wheel and the other emphatically motioning to himself and what’s flashing by outside the car’s windows. “Like no, this is a part of my journey, like what I’m doing right now isn’t important?”
It was crucial to Sharp to include a player like McClung in the series. McClung, a former Georgetown and Texas Tech standout who went undrafted in 2021, had an opportunity within the NBA last season, quickly became a fan favorite, and opted to forgo lucrative contracts overseas to return to the G League this year in the event the opportunity arose to play in the NBA. So often the G League can be touted as a kind of catch-all or passive in-between rather than an autonomous and important choice, and McClung’s portion of the series gives insight into that decision, as difficult as it can be.
Similarly, the inclusion of Cole, a two-time NBA champion, inverts the traditional timeline of what it means to be a successful NBA player. Rather than retire or continue playing overseas, Cole made the decision to join the G League and become a veteran anchor in November. With so many athletes in the G League grinding to make it to the NBA, vets like Cole can offer the insight and advice as someone who’s not just been there, but went all the way. Cole — along with Emmanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, Shabazz Napier, Amir Johnson, and Denzel Valentine — are among the former NBA players who’ve chosen to play in the G League, some right from the NBA and others after stints overseas.
“For someone like Norris, whose episode in the series has not yet come out but we’re working on now, it’s like, you do have to think about it from on the human side of things of like, what if a player just wants to be back and in the States like closer to family? With a closer connection to the NBA world that they were first a part of?” Sharp notes.
No matter the reason, more former NBA vets opting in to the G League creates a greater collective resource for younger athletes who want to break in. That’s especially the case for guys like Henderson who aren’t taking the more traditional route of going to college for a year before jumping to the NBA.
There’s a reason “The Break” started with Henderson — the match-up between Henderson’s G League Ignite squad and the French side Metropolitans 92, led by Victor Wembanyama, in early October was one of the most exciting highlights of the basketball season, in any league.
“I think thus far, some of like the most exciting storylines and basketball have their ties to the G league this season so far,” Sharp says. “The entire basketball world was focused on that Scoot and Victor match up and that’s where we started the series.”
As a storyteller, Sharp is especially excited about getting to document so early Henderson’s career. “That’s been one of the treats of starting off with Scoot,” he says. “‘Cause I feel like it’s getting a jump on really documenting his story, which is gonna be unfolding for many years.
“I can’t wait for the basketball world to embrace Scoot when he gets drafted, when he joins the NBA,” Sharp says with a chuckle. “Go ahead and get familiar with him, cause he’s gonna be around for a long time.”
The most compelling element of the G League can also be the most difficult to reconcile. So many people’s hopes, hard work, and end goals hinge on the briefest window of opportunity, wherein the odds are so impossibly stacked.
“There are so many more reasons to be in the G League and it’s been interesting to hear different players speak on their motivations for being [there],” Sharp says. “Everywhere you turn, I feel like you just find this incredibly compelling backstory on a player and they’re especially easy to root for as so many of them are on the cusp of reaching this really remarkable moment in their career of making it to the NBA.
“I think the more people pay attention to G League, the more embedded in it they become,” he adds.
What “The Break” and some of Sharp’s other projects with the G League present is as close to a real-time distillation of optimism as pro sports can offer. Regardless of how these stories end, there’s a particular privilege in being invited to witness, real-time, how they’re meaningful beyond the win-lose/success-failure dichotomy basketball so often gets reduced to. Because behind those things, and the teams that play the games, are people.