Maybe it is Dan Roundfield's soft eyes and his deep, gentle voice that deceive fans and make them believe he doesn't carry a big stick for the Atlanta Hawks. Roundfield's eyes, so heavy-lidded that he sometimes looks as if he had just been sedated, don't appear the least bit menacing. The classic gaze of an NBA power forward, after all, features cold eyes insinuating pugnacious thoughts. And Roundfield's voice, a resonant bass, breaks no wineglasses in the image department. How then does he get all that respect down those deep, dark alleyways inhabited by power forwards?
Well, they don't pay off on looks or lungs. Roundfield hasn't had any trouble impressing the players and the coaches who must face him night after night. In fact, many of them say he is fast becoming the best big forward in the league, which, of course, is a big reason why the Hawks were comfortably atop the Central Division at week's end.
With the notable exception of Elvin Hayes, power forwards have generally been underloved, overworked, and anonymous. "You look around the league," says the 6'8", 205-pound Roundfield, "and how many players who play my position get any notoriety? Elvin Hayes. Maurice Lucas, when he was playing well. That's about it. But somebody's got to do the dirty work. Playing power forward is an in-between job—you're not the star of the team, but you're not the worst player, either."
Hayes has given the position a certain character because of his scoring ability, but playing power forward remains largely trenchwork, without much to offer in the way of glamour. If you don't believe it, consider that all four of the starting forwards chosen by the fans for this year's All-Star Game were small forwards. One of them, Roundfield's teammate on the Atlanta Hawks, John Drew, started for the East team primarily because of ballot-stuffing by Hawks' fans. Roundfield was selected by the Eastern Conference coaches to play in the game, and his 18 points and 13 rebounds helped keep the East in position to win in overtime. "The thing that made me mad," says Atlanta Coach Hubie Brown, who seldom needs an excuse, "is they stuff the ballot box, and they do it for the wrong guy."
Drew, with a career scoring average of 22 points a game, would have been left off the All-Star team altogether had the players selected the teams, according to a survey conducted by The New York Times. Drew, in fact, didn't get a single vote from his own teammates, while Roundfield was chosen by NBA players as a starter for the East. "Drew has the statistics, and he gets most of the publicity," says Portland Assistant Coach Bucky Buckwalter, "but Roundfield's the real player. He's a complete power forward. He's not a shooter like Hayes, but he's so damn strong he beats you to death. He's an intimidator inside on defense, and he does so many little things well that he seems to make their other players look better."
It is probably Roundfield's failure to dominate any one statistical category that has limited his celebrity. He averages a modest 16.5 points a game, leads the Hawks in rebounding with 10.1 an outing (Moses Malone is tops in the NBA with 15.1) and is 10th in the league in blocked shots. Brown, who acquired Roundfield from the Indiana Pacers two years ago as a free agent, has built a no-star system around players like Roundfield and Guard Eddie Johnson, who do many things well. "We can't change our style just so we can get Roundfield or Johnson 25 points a game," says Brown, "but if Danny became a free agent today, there would be 21 teams trying to get him."
People weren't always trying to get Roundfield to play basketball for them, however. He grew up in Detroit thinking he was going to be a baseball hero and didn't even begin to play organized basketball until the 11th grade. "My first year was a total wipeout," says Roundfield. "We lost every single game. I was the shortest center in our division, and we got killed every time." By his senior year at Chadsey High School, Roundfield's game was improving, but he was often overshadowed by a couple of other future stars from the Detroit area—Campy Russell and James McElroy, both now in the NBA with Cleveland and Atlanta respectively.
Only six or seven colleges bothered to recruit Roundfield, but he chose none of them, electing instead to go to Central Michigan after his parents urged him to apply for a basketball scholarship. Had his parents been less persuasive, Roundfield would probably be a bank teller today. Come to think of it, he is a bank teller today, working at the Fulton Federal Savings & Loan in Atlanta during the off-season.
Roundfield wound up leading Central Michigan to a 1975 Mid-American Conference title and impressed pro scouts by blocking eight shots in a loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Mideast Regional that year. He was drafted in the first round by Indiana, then in the ABA, for whom he sat on the bench most of his rookie season. Roundfield had always been a great leaper, but he wasn't prepared for one experience. "My second year with the Pacers, Len Elmore got hurt," says Roundfield, "and I started 61 games for them at center. That was the first year of the merger, so I had to go up against guys like Bob Lanier, Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I learned a lot that year. I was quick enough to stay with those guys. but I wasn't big enough to really do battle with them. I had to get by on quickness and jumping ability, which didn't do me any good most of the time because those big guys would just push me out of the way."
Getting pushed around has always been a problem for Roundfield. He had his two front teeth knocked out by an elbow when he was in college, and during his first two seasons as a pro he missed 42 games because he broke his right wrist four times: once it was stepped on, twice he fell on it and once he slid into a press table while diving for a ball. Now he tapes both wrists so heavily to prevent more fractures that he looks as if he is wearing the world's biggest wristbands.
Lately, Roundfield has had to play with a torn muscle in his lower back. "He's had the injury eight weeks, and he hasn't missed a practice or a game," says Brown. Two Sundays ago Roundfield was in obvious pain in a game at Golden State, often clutching his hips during time-outs. Still he managed to lead the Hawks back from a 15-point deficit with just under four minutes to play, hitting an eight-foot spin shot from the baseline with 18 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. In the extra period the Hawks found themselves down 96-95 with 27 seconds to go when Roundfield took a pass from Center Tree Rollins, flashed across the lane and threw down a savage lefthanded dunk to win the game, Atlanta's sixth victory in a row. For good measure he blocked Golden State's last shot, but by then most of the fans were on their way to the exits. Almost nobody noticed.