The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever

The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever

3.5 22
by John Feinstein
     
 

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When an on-court fight broke out between the Houston Rockets and the LA Lakers just before Christmas 1977, Rudy Tomjanovitch raced to break it up. He was met by Kermit Washington's fist. This is the story of how one punch changed two lives, the NBA and how we think about basketball, forever.See more details below

Overview

When an on-court fight broke out between the Houston Rockets and the LA Lakers just before Christmas 1977, Rudy Tomjanovitch raced to break it up. He was met by Kermit Washington's fist. This is the story of how one punch changed two lives, the NBA and how we think about basketball, forever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Feinstein's latest (after The Last Amateurs) tears the scab off one of the deepest wounds in the history of professional sports. In 1977, during a Lakers-Rockets match, L.A. forward Kermit Washington forever altered the course of his career and that of Houston's Rudy Tomjanovich when he threw a punch that nearly killed the Rockets' captain. From that moment on, each man's life became defined by the incident and its aftermath. Seamlessly weaving the event itself into the fabric of pro basketball's rocky pre-Magic/Bird/Jordan history of constantly relocating franchises, dismal television support and chronic violence, Feinstein tells a moving story of two men branded by a moment frozen in time, and how the incident changed the game it could well have destroyed. The narrative never gets mired in the fawning sycophantism of many sports books or the moral proselytizing of many others. Feinstein's research is sharp, and his time line jumps around effortlessly, like a good Quentin Tarantino film. Most importantly, the author sustains the balance between Washington's burden of guilt and the genuine misfortune that has followed him since. He's a sympathetic character, almost uniformly described as a smart, good-hearted man bearing the never-healing scar of the one great mistake in his life. Yet he is by no means the saint he might have us believe him to be. Feinstein's portrait of each man is compelling; neither is lionized or demonized. Rather, the complexity of the incident and the depth of the personal trauma for both Tomjanovich and Washington fester under the author's microscope in this excellent and engaging book. (Nov.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
On a December night in 1977, in the heat of what would become arguably the most infamous basketball brawl in history, Los Angeles Lakers power forward Kermit Washington sensed someone approaching from behind, whirled, and landed a devastating punch to the face of Houston Rocket All-Star Rudy Tomjanovich, who was running full-tilt toward Washington and the battle. Tomjanovich hovered close to death for a short time, endured five operations, and missed the remainder of the season, while Washington served a 60-day suspension as the NBA acted to tighten its rules against fighting. Tomjanovich returned the next season, but many observers agree that neither player was ever quite the same again. Best-selling author Feinstein (A Good Walk Spoiled) tells the story of that night and what followed, recounting the many ironies that surround it: Washington, reviled at the time and still struggling to secure work within the NBA as a coach or scout, is by all accounts a good human being; Kevin Kunnert, with whom Washington was initially skirmishing, is the man Washington blames for his problems accruing from the fight; and despite their subsequent accomplishments, Washington and Tomjanovich are still thought of chiefly as puncher and victim, roles they long to shed. Essential for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/02.]-Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Prolific sportswriter Feinstein (The Last Amateurs, 2000, etc.) revisits an important National Basketball Association incident and ably dramatizes how it changed the participants and the league forever. In 1977, during a minor skirmish, Los Angeles Laker Kermit Washington turned, punched, and hit the approaching Rudy Tomjanovich of the Houston Rockets squarely in the face. Bleeding profusely and leaking brain fluid into his mouth, Rudy T. was placed in intensive care and, later, had his face surgically reconstructed. Twenty-five years after, neither man has completely recovered, and witnesses still remember the sound of the punch. From this central incident, Feinstein flashes back to the early lives of both men and forward to their present circumstances. He also shows how the NBA has changed since the B.S. era (Before Stern, the commissioner who revolutionized the league in the 1980s). Kermit Washington grew up in Washington, D.C., was tall and awkward, and after sitting on the bench his senior year of high school, almost miraculously received a scholarship to American University, where he became an all-American player. Rudy T., from the Detroit area, was a high-school star and had a choice of premiere colleges before picking Michigan. Feinstein, who intuitively understands the bonds of teammates and whose basketball and football books are better than his golf stories, skillfully draws the repercussions of the Punch. Calvin Murphy, Rudy T.'s small and tenacious roommate, suffers in his friend's absence and seeks revenge. Washington's Laker teammates recall his usually gentle nature, but Laker coach Jerry West is shocked by the Punch and resigns his position. The league cracks down onfighting and markets emerging stars Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Rudy T. maintains his marriage, overcomes alcohol problems, and, today, is a successful coach. Washington, never able to look into his heart of darkness, struggles after a divorce and bad business decisions. A rambling ride, but instructive and likable on the way. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen) Author tour

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780759527386
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
11/05/2002
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
247,118
File size:
2 MB

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