If you’ve never seen the video of the Lakers’ Kermit Washington nearly knocking the Rockets Rudy Tomjanovich’s head off with a punch during a 1977 game, familiarize yourself with the video below.
There are at least three interesting results from the knockout blow:
- The implications for the NBA.
- What it meant for Kermit Washington (and to a lesser degree, Rudy T).
- The sheer infamy of the “the Punch.”
The date was December 9, 1977. The NBA was something of a Wild West back in the days of disco, so it wasn’t surprising to see a skirmish erupt.
Kermit Washington and the Rockets’ Kevin Kunnert went after a rebound, resulting in a brief tangle up. This lead to the Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kunnert going at it with Washington looking on.
After that scuffle subsided, Kermit Washington inserted himself and caught an elbow from Kunnert. And while there is some dispute as to who threw the first punch between these two, it’s clear they traded blows, with Kunnert eventually falling to one knee.
Phew. And we haven’t even gotten to “the Punch.”
It was at this point that Rudy Tomjanovich entered stage right at full speed. Washington has been singing the same song for years: He thought Rudy T was flying in to punch him. Tomjanovich, for his part, says he was arriving to break up the fight.
Whatever the case, Washington hit Tomjanovich with a haymaker that would have been the envy of any prizefighter. The punch fractured Rudy’s face and he hit the court, unconscious. Years later, Abdul-Jabbar would call the sound of the punch similar to a mellon being dropped on concrete.
Tomjanovich’s injuries were like war wounds: Fractured skull, broken jaw, broken nose, concussion, spinal fluid and blood linking into his skull capsule. The surgeon reportedly said it was like “Scotch-taping a shattered eggshell back together.”
Absurdly, Washington was only fined $10K and received just a 60-day suspension. Tomjanovich was out for the rest of the season recuperating.
The league cracked down on on-court violence in the wake of the Washington-Tomjanovich altercation. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was at time the NBA’s chief counsel, said “you couldn’t allow men that big and that strong to go around throwing punches at each other.”
Washington has tried diligently to portray himself as a victim in the wake of “the Punch,” even going so far as to claim teams wouldn’t hire him as a coach in later years. And while it may be neither here nor there, the fact that Washington was indicted for embezzling 500 grand from a charity for children in Africa in 2016, mayyyy undermine his credibility a tad.