Roundfield, who played 11 professional seasons with Indiana, Atlanta, Detroit and Washington, had been swimming with his wife, Bernie, off the southeastern tip of Aruba on Monday when they became caught in rough water beyond a protected reef area, said John Larmonie, a police spokesman on the southern Caribbean island.
The former All Star was apparently swept away in a strong current as he tried to help his struggling wife, Larmonie said. Police, firefighters, the Coast Guard and volunteers searched for him, finding his body about 90 minutes later, trapped by rocks underwater.
“It’s a real tragedy,” Larmonie said. “He drowned saving his wife.”
Bernie Roundfield, who said she was helped to safety by a U.S. tourist snorkeling nearby, said in an interview that the couple, who live in the Atlanta area, had come to the island with their two grandchildren.
The couple had visited Aruba nearly 20 times and were caught off guard by the strong currents at the swimming area known as “Baby Beach,” even though they had been there many times in the past, she said.
Bernie Roundfield was treated for shock after the incident and Larmonie said the government had provided a social worker to assist her and other family members as they remained on the island Tuesday.
Roundfield was selected as an All-Star in 1980, 1981 and 1982, when he was playing for the Hawks.
Friends and colleagues mourned an athlete that they said was known for physical play but a gentle nature.
“Danny represented the Hawks with dignity and pride both on and off the court, and this is a tragic loss for us all,” team general manager Danny Ferry said in a statement.
Former Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins called Roundfield the “most honest and upfront person I knew,” in a statement released by the team.
“He taught me how to be a professional and took me under his wing,” he said. “My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, I will truly miss him.”
Julia Roundfield, a sister-in-law of the athlete, who lives in Detroit, said members of the former athlete’s extended family were still trying to get details of the incident.
“He was a real sweet guy,” Julia Roundfield said. “He really was a sweetheart.”
His wife said he will be remembered as a family man.
“People knew he was a great husband, a great dad, a great grandfather,” Bernie Roundfield said. “They knew he would help his friends or any other person who needed help.”
A 6-foot-8 forward-center out of Detroit, Roundfield played for Central Michigan in college and started his pro career with Indiana, which was then in the ABA. He played 11 professional seasons. Besides the Pacers, he had stints with Atlanta, Detroit and Washington and averaged 15.2 point per game for his NBA career.
In addition to his wife, Roundfield is survived by his sons Christopher and Corey and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized.
Larmonie said Baby Beach is generally safe but can be deceptive. The water can get treacherous out beyond the reef in rough weather.
“It was a really bad day to go outside the reef,” he said.
In August 2011, an American tourist, Gary Giordano of Gaithersburg, Maryland, reported that his companion, Robyn Gardner of Frederick, Maryland, disappeared while snorkeling near Baby Beach. Police detained Giordano on suspicion of involvement in her death but he was released for lack of evidence and returned to the U.S.