A little more than one year later, and the story only gets more emotional.
It was tough enough in the moment, when Dan Roundfield, a three-time All-Star with the Hawks who also played for the ABA Pacers and the Pistons and Bullets in a 12-year career in the 1970s and ‘80s, drowned in Aruba on Aug. 6, 2012. He saw his wife in trouble on a raft as the seas off Baby Beach turned violent, went deeper into the water to save her, and lost his own life at age 59.
Now comes the heartbreaking, touching story from Harvey Araton in the New York Times as Roundfield’s widow, Bernie, talks about the incident and her husband of 37 years to reach out to everyone in appreciation of their support during the last year.
“I hadn’t talked about it because it was so hard,” Bernie Roundfield told Araton, who has written on numerous sports and has a long history as one of the best basketball writers. “But I had decided that I wanted — I needed to — find a way to say thank you.”
The details are aching. Many of them are also being shared for the first time.
Bernie Roundfield said she and Dan knew the ground rules at Baby Beach. They had taken their sons there many times. They occasionally took friends, cautioning them to stay away from the gap to the right that led past the reef, where snorkelers would go.
One possible explanation for what happened, [John] Larmonie [a spokesman for the Aruba police] said, was that Bernie’s raft had moved too close to the invisible and sometimes shifting boundary while she relaxed.
Unable to reverse direction after her husband called to her, she cried out, “Danny, help me.”
He began to go after her. She saw him walking through chest-high water – not swimming – toward her. As the water heaved around her, she lost sight of him.
Also from the Times story:
Out on the raft, still clinging to it, still drifting away, Bernie silently prayed: “Lord, help me, you say you’ll never forsake me. I need you.” Passing minutes felt like hours. At some point, she heard a voice. A hand reached out – a woman approaching.
“I’m here to help you,” the woman said. “I’m going to pull you in.”
Nicole Brandt, a 43-year-old massage therapist, was visiting the island and was on an eight-person day tour. An avid swimmer, she had been in the water, wearing fins and a snorkeling mask. She heard someone calling out in distress.
“I saw a blue raft out there, and I thought, that’s got to be her,” Brandt said by telephone from her home in Austin, Tex. “There was no time to get help, no time to think. I pulled off the mask. I just started swimming as fast as I could. She was just about at the edge of being pulled out to sea.”
Brandt grabbed hold of the raft and began to back-kick in the direction of the beach. Even for someone in excellent physical condition, who swims miles each week, it was difficult and exhausting. The water felt rough even in the shallow area, where she could stand.
Bernie fell when she tried to get off the raft and walk the rest of the way in. Brandt wrapped an arm around her, and they crawled to the sand.
At this point, Bernie assumed Dan would be back on the beach. She thought he must have reversed course, gone for help and perhaps had sent Brandt out to get her. But he was nowhere in sight. While Bernie sat shivering, Brandt ran into a small restaurant to have the police called.
She returned to where Bernie sat, and waited with her.
Some 90 minutes later, Araton reports, a member of the search team found Dan’s body, with one leg pinned under rocks. A bruise suggested Roundfield hit his head on a rock when engulfed by a wave.
Brandt said a year later she is dealing with the emotional trauma, and she and Bernie Roundfield have stayed in touch. While not wanting to reach out to many people to share her grief, Roundfield made a point to call Brandt to say thank you. Now Bernie has reached out to everyone.