Friday, September 15, 2023

The Infamous Punch: Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington

In the world of sports, memorable moments are often associated with incredible plays, championships, and remarkable feats of athleticism. However, there are moments that stand out for entirely different reasons, moments that serve as stark reminders of the unpredictability and occasional violence that can unfold on the playing field. One such moment occurred on December 9, 1977, when Houston Rockets' forward Rudy Tomjanovich was punched by Los Angeles Lakers' forward Kermit Washington during an NBA game. This shocking incident not only altered the course of both men's careers but also had a profound impact on the NBA as a whole.

Rudy Tomjanovich, often referred to as "Rudy T," was a rising star in the NBA during the 1970s. A talented forward for the Houston Rockets, Tomjanovich was known for his versatility, scoring ability, and leadership on the court. He had already been selected as an All-Star twice and was widely respected in the league.

Kermit Washington, on the other hand, was known for his toughness and physicality. Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers at the time, Washington was a solid defender and rebounder, but he was also known for his short temper and propensity for on-court altercations.

The incident occurred during a game between the Rockets and the Lakers at The Forum in Inglewood, California. In the fourth quarter, a scuffle broke out between the two teams. In the midst of the chaos, Tomjanovich ran toward the altercation to break it up, as he was known for his peacemaking tendencies.

What happened next shocked the basketball world. Kermit Washington, caught up in the brawl and believing he was defending his teammate, threw a powerful and devastating punch at Tomjanovich's face. The impact of the punch was so severe that it left Tomjanovich unconscious, bloodied, and convulsing on the floor.

The aftermath of the incident was both immediate and long-lasting. Rudy Tomjanovich suffered multiple facial fractures, a broken jaw, and a concussion. His injuries were so severe that they required extensive reconstructive surgery. The incident threatened not only his basketball career but also his life.

Kermit Washington was immediately ejected from the game, and he later received a 60-day suspension, the longest in NBA history at the time. He was also fined $10,000. The incident tarnished Washington's reputation and haunted him for the rest of his life.

For Rudy Tomjanovich, the road to recovery was long and arduous. He missed the remainder of the 1977-78 NBA season but eventually returned to the court. Despite his injuries, he continued to play until his retirement in 1981. Tomjanovich's legacy would extend beyond his playing career, as he went on to become a successful NBA coach, leading the Houston Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995.

The Tomjanovich-Washington incident had a profound impact on the NBA and the way it handles violence on the court. It served as a wake-up call for the league, leading to increased efforts to curb on-court violence and protect players' safety. The incident also prompted the NBA to establish stricter rules and penalties for fighting and unsportsmanlike conduct.

The punch delivered by Kermit Washington to Rudy Tomjanovich remains one of the most infamous moments in NBA history. It was a stark reminder of the physicality and intensity of professional basketball and the potential consequences of on-court altercations. While both men's lives and careers were forever altered by that fateful night, the incident ultimately led to positive changes within the NBA, emphasizing the importance of player safety and sportsmanship. Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington's names will forever be linked by that punch, a moment that serves as a cautionary tale and a testament to the enduring impact of actions on the basketball court.