The Milwaukee Bucks historic NBA Championship run was defined by moments of frustration, anguish, devastation and out and out panic, with the latter of those emotions hitting the team at full force prior to Game 5 of the Finals against Phoenix.
With the Delta variant of the Coronavirus wreaking havoc across the world, the Bucks camp was heavily impacted when reserve Thanasis Antetokounmpo was placed in the league's health and safety protocol.
Antetokounmpo joined assistant coaches Patrick St. Andrews and Josh Oppenheimer in isolation among other members of the party, with fears setting in that their campaign could be derailed at the worst possible time.
Speaking with ESPN, incoming Sydney Kings head coach Chase Buford gave insight into the gravity of the situation from his role on Mike Budenholzer's coaching staff in Milwaukee.
"I think once Thanasis went down into protocol we were all like, f---, how do we get through this," Buford admitted. "We just wanted to get to Game 6 and give ourselves a chance."
"It was tough. It hit their camp too, I know they had travel party members, families. We were all dealing with family stuff, there was a lot going on."
The concern was widespread, with Thanasis' brother Giannis in the midst of a dominant Finals series and St. Andrews one of Budenholzer's lead assistants.
"You see how close Saint is to Bud and all the things that make everything work. When Saint was missing it was a big part of our staff. Everyone picked up the slack and did what we needed to do.
"I felt so bad for those guys that couldn't be there. It was tough, it was hard not knowing who was going to be in the game. We had other false positives; it was a scary 36 hours just hoping to get to Game 6 with a full roster."
The Bucks would win both Game 5 and 6, claiming their first title in 50 years, navigating adversity to come out on top which became a theme for Milwaukee's postseason run.
No moment has induced more anxiety than Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, when the left knee of Giannis endured a horrific hyperextension that threatened to end not only his immediate season, but possibly the 2022 campaign.
"I sit on the replay (on the bench) with Blaine Mueller, and we were running it back right away. Blaine isn't pessimistic but he didn't want to see it again, we were all worried," Buford recalled.
"Watching the replay, I thought it looked like a pretty straight hyperextension and I thought it would be sore as shit for two weeks. Luckily that was exactly what happened, but we were all terrified as we rightfully should have been."
Not only did Antetokounmpo return for Game 1 of the Finals against Phoenix, but he also delivered one of the greatest individual performances in NBA Finals history in the title clinching Game 6, pouring in 50 points to bury the Suns' dreams.
Buford was gushing in his praise for Antetokounmpo after a season working in the same gym as the 2-time league MVP.
"It was unbelievable to watch him play. It was honestly, truly an honour to sit there and watch him play from a courtside seat for those series. It was truly incredible how good he was, understanding the game, reading the game, finding teammates, rolling. He was making the right plays over and over again, you saw it, it was so impressive.
"His leadership with the team, it was just so consistent. He comes in every day to work. One through seventeen you can't not bring it every day because when your one brings it like he does it sets the standard for everyone else. It might not be so much with his talk but he's such a leader with the way he works and the way he holds people accountable in that way."
Along with Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee thrived and survived on heroic performances from Team USA stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, while also receiving massive contributions from role players such as the previously maligned Bobby Portis, who Buford had worked with during his time with the Chicago Bulls from 2015-17.
A talented offensive player, Portis suffered through defensive concerns and character question marks stemming from an ugly practice fight with former Bulls teammate Nikola Mirotic in 2017.
"It's so funny to me because I was one of Bobby's work out guys as a player development coach with the Bulls his first two years. He's the most soul to the earth, good person, I just love him to death, I love being around him. I think he's the best teammate, the nicest most humble human being.
"You break somebodies' nose and there's a narrative around it but when we were having discussions in the off-season about Bobby and people were asking me, I kept saying Bobby is the best. People were so shocked when he got here. It's simple, he's just a great dude and maybe the most liked teammate ever.
"He's such a competitor and such a skilled offensive player that I think he can only continue to grow. It's probably some of the first real coaching he's had in his career, particularly defensively and I think it's paid off quite a bit."
Buford's role with the Bucks was modified for the 2021-22 season, with his primary role as head coach of the affiliate Wisconsin Herd becoming redundant as the G League season was reduced to a short bubble campaign that the team withdrew participation from.
"I was basically a free coach, so I was just staying ready, and the role evolved into taking the trenches group. The young guys, playing pick-up, they played against the same guys for months and they handled it with a lot of class. Those guys were a blast to be around.
"A lot of it was keeping the young guys occupied. As much as I missed coaching it was fun to be a fly in a lot of those meetings and use my voice when I needed to. Bud was great letting me do that."
Winning a championship with this coaching staff in Milwaukee felt like a coming full circle moment for Buford, who worked under Budenholzer with the Atlanta Hawks for many years beginning almost a decade ago.
"Any chance to work under Bud for a young coach or any coach in general is worth it. The amount of detail and program building that they offer is great. I was lucky to start in the video room under those guys and to come back was fun.
"Taking with me some of the modern intricacies of the game and the way it's changed the last five years, understanding that has been great for me personally. Being around players who work like Giannis and Khris has been a fun lesson."
As is the nature of professional sports, Buford's attention is fully locked in on the fast-approaching NBL 22 season, with the Sydney Kings looking to rebound back into the playoffs after an injury hampered run last season.
Of course, the memories of winning a Championship with the Bucks will not soon leave Buford, particularly when acknowledging the rocky road, the team had to navigate to get there.
"It was impressive just to see those guys stay the course when things didn't go well. The mentality of that group is special."
"You work so hard for so long. It's not even just a year, its season, careers, all that stuff. To see it happen and to have it for those guys was cool to be a part of. Obviously, a lot of shared drinks that night, a lot of hugs."