The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever [NOOK Book]

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

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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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Legendary sportswriter John Feinstein covers the infamous one-punch assault by NBA player Kermit Washington on Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977, showing how one moment of savage anger led to irrevocable change in the careers and lives of two men. Once again, Feinstein shines an illuminating light behind the scenes of an indelible sports moment.
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: 11/5/2002
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 275,826
  • File size: 2 MB

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii
1. What Hit Me? 3
2. An Overcast Friday 16
3. That Was Then ... 35
4. Did You Hear About Rudy and Kermit? 51
5. Who Hit Whom? 68
6. Sixty Days and Ten Thousand Dollars 80
7. Red to the Rescue 94
8. Too Soon to Dream 110
9. Welfare Memories 124
10. Dreams Can Come True 136
11. From Hamtramck to Ann Arbor to San Diego 156
12. The Bright Lights of L.A. 177
13. Turnaround 197
14. The Punch 208
15. A New Life 216
16. Recovery 233
17. Life Goes On 247
18. Time to Move On 264
19. Starting Over 280
20. Finding a Niche 298
21. Troubles 312
22. No Peace to Be Found 326
23. Brothers 341
Acknowledgments 347
Index 353
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First Chapter

Chapter 1

 

What Hit Me?

 

December 9, 1977

 

He had always worried about the scoreboards. That morning, during shootaround, Rudy Tomjanovich caught himself staring up at the scoreboard in the Los Angeles Forum, wondering if the thing was really safe.

"I always thought about it in the empty arenas," he said. "For some reason, I worried that one day one of the damn things would break and it would come crashing down on us during a game." Now it had. At least that's what he thought when he came to, lying flat on his back, that night in the opening minute of the third quarter. The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers had been tied 55-55 at halftime, and he was having a great shooting night: 9-for-14 from the field. His jumper, one of the NBA's sweetest, felt perfect every time he released the ball. The only surprise was that he had actually missed five times.

The Rockets had gone up 57-55 to start the second half. There was a missed jump shot at the other end, and Kevin Kunnert, the Rockets' 7-foot center, grabbed the rebound. Tomjanovich began sprinting down the right side of the court, knowing that Kunnert would feed the ball to John Lucas, his team's point guard, and there would be a chance to beat the L.A. defense down the court. He was on the right wing, looking to see if Lucas was going to feed him the ball, when he heard a whistle behind the play.

He turned and saw Kunnert, who had made it to midcourt, being wrestled from behind by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Another Laker, Tomjanovich wasn't sure at that moment who it was, had his back to Tomjanovich and was throwing a punch at Kunnert. Tomjanovich saw Kunnert sag to one knee as the punch landed, and he started running in the direction of the fight. "All I knew," he later said, "was one of my guys was in trouble. I just ran toward the fight, not sure what I would do when I got there."

He sprinted toward the skirmish, arms down, thinking he would perhaps wrap up the Laker who had hit Kunnert and pull him away, just as Abdul-Jabbar appeared to be doing with Kunnert. That's the way most NBA fights began and ended: an elbow or a profanity thrown; a square-off; a punch, maybe two; and then cooler heads prevailing. Tomjanovich was always one of the cooler heads. Calvin Murphy, his 5-foot-10-inch roommate, was not. Murphy was also running back in the direction of the fight. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of his mind, Tomjanovich knew that if Murphy arrived before he did, it would not be as a peacemaker. He was at full speed as he approached center court. That was when the scoreboard fell on him.

"Tricky, what happened?" He was lying in a pool of blood, Tomjanovich knew that. He could see Dick Vandervoort, the Rockets' trainer, leaning over him, holding a towel to try to stanch the blood gushing from his nose. "Lie still, Rudy," Vandervoort—Tricky to all the Houston players —was telling him.

Still dazed, Tomjanovich sat up just a little bit, and the first person he saw was Walter Matthau, the actor, who was sitting in a front-row seat. He repeated his original question. "What happened, Trick, did the scoreboard fall on me?"

"Kermit hit you." Kermit Washington was the Lakers' 6-foot-8-inch power forward. He was listed in the media guide as weighing 240 pounds, all of it rock-hard muscle from years of weight lifting. On that night Washington's weight was down to 222, the result of hours of tireless off-season rehab work he had done after undergoing knee surgery the previous season. At any weight Washington was one of the league's strongest men, a self-made player who used strength, intensity, and work ethic to make up for a lack of offensive skills.

Washington often joked about his shooting ability. "I would always say to the referees, 'Hey, I'm being fouled, call a foul,'" he said. "And they would look at me and say, 'Kermit, if we call the foul, you're just going to miss free throws and embarrass yourself. Keep playing.'"

So he played. Very hard. He was part of a generation of enforcers, players whose job it was to protect their team's star. Abdul-Jabbar was the Lakers' star. Washington was his protection. That meant he did the dirty work defensively and on the boards, and if any kind of skirmish broke out, it was his job to make sure nothing happened to Abdul-Jabbar. There were limits to what he could do. On opening night in October, Abdul-Jabbar, frustrated by the physical play of Milwaukee Bucks rookie center Kent Benson, had hauled off and slugged Benson, breaking his hand. He had missed 20 games and the Lakers had struggled to a 9-14 start.

It was Washington whom Tomjanovich had seen throw the punch at Kunnert. As Kunnert's knees buckled and Abdul-Jabbar, who had been trying to separate Kunnert from Washington, swung him away, Washington became aware of someone approaching from behind.

"I saw a blur of red," he said. "I grew up in the streets. You learn there that if you're in a fight and someone is coming up from behind you, you swing first and ask questions later."

He turned and swung, a straight right hand that landed just under Tomjanovich's nose. At the very last instant, as Washington turned and faced him, Tomjanovich sensed danger. He tried to throw his hands up to protect himself, but it was too late.

"I don't have any memory of throwing my hands up," Tomjanovich said. "The only reason I know I did is because I saw it on the tape. The last thing I remember is running toward the fight. Then I looked up and saw Tricky. There's nothing in between."

In between was a punch that landed with devastating force. It was thrown by a very strong man, pumped up on adrenaline from being in a fight, at a man running full speed right into the punch, completely unprotected. Describing what happened later, doctors likened the collision of Washington's fist and Tomjanovich's face to a collision between two locomotives traveling at full speed. The doctor who worked on Tomjanovich later that night, a specialist in head and neck trauma, said the injuries Tomjanovich suffered were not unlike those suffered by someone thrown through the windshield of a car traveling 50 miles per hour.

"I'll never forget that sound," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I had turned Kunnert away from Kermit, and suddenly I heard this crack, like a melon landing on concrete. It's twenty-four years ago, but I can still hear it."

The punch knocked Tomjanovich straight backward, and he landed on the back of his head, out cold within a second. Every person on the court and almost every person in the Forum that night remembers the next few minutes as if they were played out in slow motion.

Upstairs in the press box, the writers looked at each other almost as soon as the punch landed and then began heading downstairs —almost unheard of in the middle of a game.

"It was the sound," Thomas Bonk, then the Rockets' beat writer for the Houston Post, remembered. "No one had ever heard a punch that sounded like that. Even from where we were, all the way upstairs, the sound resonated. Punches aren't supposed to do that. It was frightening.

"We were used to fights. Back then, fights broke out in the NBA every night. When Kermit and Kunnert squared off, your first response was, 'Oh look, another stupid NBA fight, what else is new?' And then in an instant it all changed and it became terrifying."

While most of the writers used the stairs behind the seating area that would take them directly to the hallway where the team locker rooms were, Ted Green of the Los Angeles Times bolted out of his chair and ran directly down the center aisle of seats to get courtside.

"The first thing that was stunning was that you could actually hear the punch from where we were," he said. "None of us had ever heard a punch from where we sat. The second thing was the blood. It started spreading around Rudy's head almost as soon as he hit the floor. I'd never seen anyone shot in the head, but if I had, that's what I imagined it would look like."

Green estimates that it took him about forty-five seconds to sprint from his seat to courtside. He got to within twenty-five or thirty feet of Tomjanovich and saw him lying there, blood all over him and the court, while players milled around in shock and Vandervoort worked on him.

"He wasn't moving," Green said. "He probably didn't move for a total of two minutes, maybe three. But it felt like hours while I was standing there. I remember thinking, 'He's dead. My God, he's dead. How could this happen? How could this possibly happen?' It was completely out of context, this whole scene I was looking at, and it was absolutely horrifying all at once."

No one was more horrified than Jerry West. A Hall of Fame player in his second year as the Lakers' coach, he had seen his share of fights. But never anything like this. "I was in shock when I saw it," he said. "Absolute, complete shock. It was an awful feeling. I felt sick to my stomach."

Abdul-Jabbar felt the same sensations. "There was just so much blood," he said. "I kept thinking, 'How can there be so much blood from one punch? Something is wrong here.' The only thing that kept me from panicking completely was that his legs were moving a little. Otherwise I would have been worried that he was dead. It looked that bad."

The whistle Tomjanovich had heard had been blown by Bob Rakel, the referee trailing the play. Rakel had seen Kunnert and Washington square off, and when Washington threw the punch at Kunnert he blew his whistle, in part to call a punching foul, in part to try to get the players to back off. Ed Middleton was the other official, and he had been in full sprint trying to get to the other end of the court to pick up the completion of the Rockets' fast break. He was almost at the baseline when he heard his partner's whistle and turned to see what had happened. When he saw the melee at midcourt, he turned and followed Tomjanovich in the direction of the fight. The next thing he knew, Washington had spun around and thrown the punch and Tomjanovich was on the floor.

At that moment, everything stopped. No one on either team had any desire to fight anymore. While Rakel was telling Washington he was ejected from the game, Middleton stood behind Vandervoort, who had raced off the bench the minute Tomjanovich went down. "I remember telling someone we were going to need more towels to mop up all the blood," Middleton said. "Then I looked down and got a good look at Rudy's face. I had to go over to the scorer's table and lean over to get my breath back. I was afraid I was going to be sick."

Calvin Murphy, the little guard whom no one in the NBA wanted to fight, had raced past Washington to get to Kunnert, who was staggering in Abdul-Jabbar's arms. When he heard the punch and saw Tomjanovich go down, he left Kunnert and reached his best friend's side no more than a second or two before Vandervoort. Washington was a few feet away, being ejected by Rakel. Murphy stood rooted to the spot, staring first at his unconscious teammate, then at Washington.

"My first thought was, 'I'm going to kill the sonofabitch,'" Murphy said. "There was no question in my mind about it. I couldn't believe what I was looking at. I couldn't believe he had done that to Rudy. I saw the security people starting to take him off, and I took a step toward him, because I was going to kill him. That was absolutely my intent: kill the sonofabitch who had done that to my buddy."

But when Murphy tried to put one foot in front of the other, he found he couldn't move. His legs were rubbery. It certainly wasn't fear. Murphy was one of the league's smallest men, but he was every bit the enforcer that Washington was. He had been a Golden Gloves boxer as a teenager, and unlike most of the league's players, he actually knew how to fight. Unofficially he had been in seventeen full-fledged fights during eight years in the league and had never lost. The fight that people remembered most was one against Sidney Wicks, then of the Boston Celtics. Like Washington, Wicks was 6-8 and about 225. Murphy had jumped into the air, grabbed Wicks by his Afro, pulled him down to his level, and punched him into submission.

Now he stood frozen as Washington left the court. "It was an act of God," Murphy said years later. "It had to be. On any other night I would have killed him. But something happened and kept me there, right where I was. It had to be an act of God. There's no other explanation."

John Lucas had been in the lane when the whistle blew. He continued to the basket, put an uncontested layup through the hoop, and caught the ball as it came through the net. He turned and ran back to the scene with the ball still in his hands. "My first instinct was to turn and run," he said. "I saw Rudy, I looked at Kermit, and I thought, 'Oh my God, what has happened here?'" he said. "I remember I had the ball in my hands, and the first thing I thought was that I just wanted to get out of there. I just didn't want to be at that place. It was too gruesome."

Tomjanovich knew none of this when he came to. He wasn't in that much pain when Vandervoort got him into a sitting position, but he was confused. It hadn't been the scoreboard; it had been Kermit Washington. "I was dazed and woozy, and Tricky was telling me Kermit hit me. All I could think was, 'Why would he hit me? I wasn't even fighting with him.'"

Nowadays, he wouldn't have been allowed to move. He would have been told to stay down and a stretcher would have been brought out for him. But this was 1977. He got up slowly, aided by Vandervoort, with a towel over his face to try to stop the blood. Getting up, he looked right at West. It was then that he understood for the first time that this was more than a bloody nose.

"He just had this look on his face," Tomjanovich said. "It was the kind of look you see when someone can't believe what they're seeing. I remember thinking I must look pretty bad. But I had no idea how bad."

Tomjanovich had no idea how fortunate he was that Vandervoort had figured out very quickly that he had a serious injury. As he left the court with Vandervoort, Tomjanovich was trailed by Dr. Clarence Shields, one of the Lakers' team doctors. Washington had already left, escorted by security and by Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Lakers' senior team doctor, who went back to the locker room with him to examine his hand.

As he walked off, Tomjanovich could hear a man directly over the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms screaming profanities at him. "He should have killed you, Tomjanovich," the man yelled. "Should have killed you."

Standing in front of the man, eyes filled with tears, was a youngster Tomjanovich recognized as someone who had come to his basketball camp years earlier. Tomjanovich wasn't sure whether the boy was crying because of what he looked like or because of what the man was yelling. Either way, he went from wobbly to furious in an instant.

"Let's get this done fast, Trick," he said. "Put some gauze in my nose or whatever and get me back out there."

Vandervoort said nothing. Once they were out of the arena and in the hallway under the stands, they had to walk past the Lakers' dressing room and around a corner to where the visitors' dressing room was located. The first person Tomjanovich saw in the hallway was Washington. By then the media was in the hallway-Bonk and George White from Houston and two of the three Lakers beat writers-Rich Levin of the Herald-Examiner and Mitch Chortkoff from the Orange County Register. Green was still on the court.

"Kermit was still wound up," Bonk said. "He was pacing up and down in the hallway, just all pumped up on adrenaline, when Rudy and Vandervoort got there."

Seeing Washington, Tomjanovich turned in his direction. "Why'd you hit me like that?" he demanded. "What?" Washington screamed back. "What? Hit you? Ask Kevin Kunnert. Ask him what happened." "I'm asking you, you sonofabitch," Tomjanovich yelled back, and he started toward Washington.

He didn't get far, though, because Vandervoort and the security people intervened. "Good thing," Tomjanovich said later. "If I'd gotten near him, he probably would have killed me." In fact he almost certainly would have killed him.

Once it became apparent to Tomjanovich that he wasn't going to get to Washington, he and Vandervoort proceeded to the locker room. Dr. Shields had already gone ahead and placed a call to the pager of Dr. Paul Toffel, a thirty-four-year-old who specialized in head trauma. Toffel was at a pre-Christmas fund-raiser for the University of Southern California Medical Center at a hotel not far from the arena. When he called Shields back, Shields told him there had been a fight during the game at the Forum. "I've got a guy here who appears to have a severely broken nose and other facial injuries," he said. Toffel told him he would meet the player in the emergency room at Centinela Hospital as soon as he could get there.

"Do me a favor and tell them to get started right away on X rays," he told Shields. "That way I can see what we're dealing with as soon as I arrive."

At that moment Tomjanovich was sitting on a training table, with no intention of going to a hospital. He had a game to finish. "If my nose is broken, hook me up with a mask," he told Vandervoort. Firmly, Vandervoort told him there would be no mask and no more basketball on this night.

"There's an ambulance outside," he said. "Ambulance?" Tomjanovich said. "What the hell is that about?"

A few minutes later he was in the ambulance. Then he was in the hospital and they were making X rays. He wondered what he must look like, because the looks he was getting from the people in the emergency room were not that different from what he had seen on the court from Jerry West. "And these were people who were used to seeing stuff," he said.

Dr. Toffel arrived a few minutes later, still in his tuxedo. When he was given the X rays, his eyes went wide. "Oh my God," Toffel said to the emergency room doctor who had given him the X rays. "This isn't a sinus injury. The posterior portion of his face is way out of alignment." (Translation: the top part of his skull was actually about an inch off line from the lower portion.)

"Who is this guy?" Toffel asked. "Rudy Tomjanovich. Plays for the Rockets." Toffel knew the name, knew Tomjanovich was a very good player.

Tomjanovich was wondering when he was going to get to call his wife back home in Houston when Toffel, now wearing scrubs over his tuxedo, walked in carrying X rays. He introduced himself, put a glove on one hand, and told Tomjanovich that he was going to see if he could move his upper jaw.

"It moved very easily," Toffel said later. "Which confirmed what the X rays had shown. I knew then this was a very serious situation."

Tomjanovich was still trying to figure out the quickest way to get out of the hospital. He asked Toffel if whatever he was going to do was going to take long and, more important, if he couldn't play any more basketball that night, how soon would he be back? The Rockets had a game in Phoenix the next night. Could he play there?

Toffel looked Tomjanovich in the eye. "No, Rudy, you can't play tomorrow," he said. "You aren't going to play basketball for a while. You aren't going to play any more this season."

Tomjanovich, whose eyes were already swelling shut, looked at Toffel as closely as he possibly could. Even though they were slits, his eyes told him that Toffel was completely serious. Any pain he was feeling disappeared, replaced by rage. "Not play this season?" he repeated. "Okay, look Doc, I know you gotta do what you gotta do, but give me an hour. I promise I'll come right back. I need to go back and find the guy who did this to me."

In Tomjanovich's mind at that moment, he was about to walk out of the emergency room, hail a cab, and go back to the Forum. Not play for the rest of the season? Now he really wanted to get Kermit Washington, regardless of the consequences. "I can't ever remember being angrier than I was at that moment," he said.

Toffel's face didn't change expression. His voice was very soft. "Rudy, let me ask you a question," he said. "Do you have any kind of funny taste in your mouth?"

Tomjanovich's eyes opened slightly. "Yeah, I do," he said. "It doesn't taste like blood either. It's very bitter. What is it?"

"Spinal fluid," Toffel said. "You're leaking spinal fluid from your brain. We're going to get you up to ICU in a few minutes and we're going to hope your brain capsule seals very soon. Do you know what the ICU is, Rudy?"

Tomjanovich nodded. He knew what ICU stood for: intensive care unit. The rage was gone. It had been replaced by fear.

"You're in trouble, Rudy," Toffel said. "We're going to work very hard to get you through this. But you can't be negative right now about anything or anyone. You have to work toward getting better, a little bit at a time. We don't need any anger or anything negative. Do you understand?"

Tomjanovich nodded again. By now he was in shock. Less than an hour ago, he had been a basketball player, doing what he loved and being paid a lot of money to do it. Now a doctor was telling him his life was hanging in the balance. He was twenty-nine years old, with a wife and two young children. At that moment all he wanted to do was see them again. Nothing else mattered.

While Tomjanovich was being taken to the hospital, Kermit Washington sat on a table in the empty Lakers locker room as Dr. Kerlan put stitches in his hand. A few minutes later he showered, dressed, and went home. His wife, Pat, who was almost eight months pregnant, was there with their two-year-old daughter, Dana.

He had been in fights before. In fact the previous season in Buffalo, he had decked John Shumate during a scuffle on court and then taken on most of the Braves' bench. He had fought with Dave Cowens, the Boston Celtics' star center, in another incident. But something told him this was different. Dr. Kerlan had said they were taking Tomjanovich to the hospital and that he had a badly broken nose and some facial injuries. He had seen the blood on the court, had felt the punch land. He wondered if he would be suspended by the NBA, which had passed new antifighting rules before the start of the season in response to a spate of fights in previous years.

As he walked to his car he heard someone calling his name. It was the man who patrolled the players' parking lot during games. He didn't know the man's name, but they always exchanged greetings before and after each game.

"Kermit," the man said as Washington opened his car. "I saw it. I saw what happened."

Washington nodded, not really eager to get into a conversation at that moment.

"Kermit," the man said, "you're in a lot of trouble. Big trouble." Washington's stomach twisted into a knot. He wasn't sure why, because at that moment he didn't know how badly Tomjanovich was hurt, but something told him the man was right. He was in a lot of trouble.

 

Copyright © 2002 by John Feinstein

 

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 30, 2011

    Great story

    The Punch is focused on an event that changed the basketball world forever. The NBA was much different in 1977 (when the punch happened) then it is today. It was much dirtier and more aggressive. The rules were less focused on the players and just on the basketball. Scuffles happened regularly and they kept fans interested. This scuffle on December 9, 1997 was different then any other. Kermit Washington was called an enforcer, he was on the Los Angeles Lakers to protect their star center Kareem Abdul-Jabar. On this night Kareem got fouled hard and the benches cleared. Kermit Washington and Calvin Murphy were getting into a heated argument so as the guy he was Rudy Tomjanovich went to break it up. As he approached Washington struck him with a punch square in the face out of fear. Tomjanovich lay on the floor instantly drenched in blood. That was the least of his fear; Tomjanovich was then scene by a doctor who told him he was leaking fluid from his brain cavity, broke his jaw and his nose. With his face mangled and his brain in shock the NBA had to do something. Kermit Washington, Rudy Tomjanoivch and the entire NBA would never be the same again.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Easy read for a sports fan

    The writing was somewhat simplistic and repetitive, but, overall, Feinstein told a good story. He certainly tried to humanize Kermit Washington anf afford people the opportunity to learn about a man they probably knew little about, except that he threw "The Punch." However, he did not try to downplay Washington's continuing refusal to accept full responsibility for his actions. It came across clearly that Washington has developed the belief that he was somehow treated unfairly by the NBA and that the punch was largely the fault of other people (Kunnert in particular). I also thought Feinstein did a good job of research as it appears he interviewed just about everyone who was connected to the game in which the punch occurred. He also put the punch into the context of the NBA's efforts to increase its popularity and shed it's thug image.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    We shoud go to new york ciiiiiiiiitttty

    And eat piiiiiiiiiizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzaaaaaaaaaa

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2008

    Too sympathetic to Washington

    I am a huge sports fan and have read many sports books. I received this book as a birthday gift. I was only 4 when 'The Punch' took place so, though I'd heard of it, was not very familiar with the story surrounding it. So, I was pleased with this gift and excited to read it. Though it was an interesting read, in the end I felt disappointed for several reasons. First, this book was far too sympathetic to Kermit Washington. Regardless of anything else regarding the fight, he nearly killed Rudy T. Even if you accept his version of the events (which I don't) he still refuses to fully apologize for the incident and accept responsibility. It's Kevin Kunnert's fault, it's the NBA's fault, it's racism, etc. He's never a man about it and just says 'I did this, I am sorry'. In fact, all his life's failures seem to be someone else's fault. This is disturbing to me and makes it puzzling that the author would feel such obvious sympathy toward the man. Second, the book is very repetative. It easily could have been 50-75 pages shorter and still told the same story. Third, something that disappointed me on a personal level...I was born and raised in Boston and have been a long-time Celtics fan. I had no idea that the Celtics had traded for Washington after his brief suspension by the NBA (2 months, which is a joke). I know that was 30 years ago but it definitely bothers me as a C's fan. I hope my review was helpful.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 21, 2011

    Engaging

    Engaging, fascinating look at one of basketball's most infamous moments, and the people whose lives it changed.

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  • Posted September 11, 2009

    The Punch By: John Feinstein

    I recommend this book to all sports fans. This is a true story about a fight that changed not only basketball, but sports in general. This is all about adversity and overcoming it. Rudy T. overcame numerous surgeries and came back to play and coach in the NBA. The only thing I didn't like in the novel was the amount of times the author told the events of the fight. Overall it was a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2005

    'The Punch'

    'The Punch' was an important event in the history of basketball. The author, John Feinstein did an okay job writing this book, but he kind of lost my interest after he started to repeat statements. 'The Punch' is worth reading, because it told the event that changed the sport forever. If you are interested in basketball I recommend reading this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2005

    A chapter in the life of a sports writer

    Once again, John Feinstein proves that hard work, sincerity and attention to detail can make reading a book like 'The Punch,' eye opening and enjoyable. Fighting, which has become commonplace in all sports, betrays the players and it's fans. Although exciting to some, the scars left stay ugly for life. Certainly after such a long period, it is high time for the media & we fans to forgive Kermit and move on. He has paid dearly for his mistakes. Haven't we all. Kudos to John Feinstein and his fortitude.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2005

    Should have been a magazine article..

    Was certainly not overwhelmed by this book. This should have been a 2 part series in Sports Illustrated, certainly not a hard bound book. I'm glad a friend lent it to me and and I didn't waste money purchasing it. No more sports books for me!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2004

    Fine Piece Of Writing...but

    The author neglected to discuss a stupendous fight that occurred around 1967-68 when Willis Reed of the Knicks single-handedly knocked out Rudy Larusso, Darrell Imhoff and a third member of the LA Lakers during a game.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2003

    great book should be read by all who what to play the game

    i enjoyed this book it brought back memories when the game was played for the love of playing and want happens when you have to leave the game

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2002

    More than a punch - More like a change of life

    Could not put it down. It is amazing what a fluke that one second was - and how someone was almost killed from one punch. The author was thorough in covering the long term effects of both players, from alocoholism (Rudy)to divorce and unemployment (Kermit). The first rematch was barely covered however, and only covered from Kermits view, not all the Rocket players on the court, and any susequent rematches got no coverage.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2002

    Magnificant writing

    On the surface this may seem a love-fest. But the endingof this book is not resached without an awful lot of soul searching, ands painfully honest appraisal both on the part of the combatants in this real life drama-tragedy, and also the witnesses, and friends who saw the brutal act and helped Kermit adn Rudy deall with all the negative rhetoric they've both had to endure because of it. In an almost Ralph Brancaesque manner, Kermit washington seems to at times admit fault for his mistake, yet in the next instant wishes to lay some blame on others who provoked him that nite. On the other hand, Rudy-t's ability tto forgive and get to a point where he wishes Washington all the best is forged in his honest appraisal of his beer problem and subsequent recovery from alcolholism. The final passage of the book is not in any way corny if you were and still are a fan of the NBA ibn the 70's, for the moment they shared in Dec 1977 at the Forum changed forev er how we all look at our opponents and our selves. The NFL shoul use this story as it tries to keep spearing form getting out of control. The big mistake made by the NBA in the early 70's was not being able to imagine such an occurrance as the 'punch' and The NFL better act quickly before one of their own is permanently parlyzed or dies while spearing someone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2002

    An Excellent Look Back at a Horrifying Sports Moment

    I have to admit that I'm not a basketball fan, but John Feinstein's books on basketball are among my favorites. This one is no exception. I remember "The Punch" vividly, even though I was a teenager at the time. I, like most people, demonized Kermit Washington for the violent and bloody punch he threw. This book humanizes Washington and shows him for what he was---a good man who made a horrible mistake, a mistake he has had to live with for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Feinstein also shows us the life of Rudy Tomjanovich, who has gone on to enjoy a successful career as an NBA coach but whose life remains marked by the incident. Feinstein weaves a remarkable story, having thoroughly researched his subject by talking with the players themselves, their coaches, their teammates, referees and league officials. He gives us the history of the players and shows us how much the league and the way it is covered by the media have changed. The most remarkable thing Feinstein shows us, however, is how a tragic mistake, taking only seconds, can change our lives forever. An excellent read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2010

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