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The history of the NBA involves a lot of dark moments, such as the infamous Malice at the Palace. One of the dirtiest moments, however, involves the time Kermit Washington punched one of his opponents. This wasn’t just any hit though; this punch, like a boxer’s, changed a man’s life forever.

Before Kermit Washington’s punch

In high school and college, Washington wasn’t a remarkable player. That said, he was drafted into the Lakers as the fifth overall pick of the 1973 draft. Washington was a big man, as he stood 6-foot 8-inches tall and played power forward for his team. Although he had some good games from time to time, he wasn’t close to becoming a great player like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.

Rudy Tomjanovich was more successful in his high school and college career, and he was drafted by the Rockets as the second overall pick in the 1970 draft. In 1974, he was also an NBA All-Star, and, throughout his career, he’d be an All-Star five times in total. That said, Tomjanovich’s promising career got derailed in 1977 by ‘The Punch,’ as it would later be called. 

‘The Punch’ and its aftermath 

Like most scuffles on the court, the events that led to ‘The Punch’ happened randomly. Washington had gotten into a fight with Kevin Kunnert of the Rockets, according to Talk Basket. It’s disputed who threw the first punch, as some say that Kunnert punched Washington first, and others say that Washington punched first. In any case, the two were fighting, and soon, people from both teams rushed in to break things up. 

Tomjanovich was one of those people, and, in the confusion, Washington punched him right in the face. That said, Washington claims that he did not intend to punch Tomjanovich, and that it was merely an accident that was caused by him being in the middle of a hectic fight with Kunnert. Others however, disagree, according to Talk Basket, and the Rockets’ coach, Tom Nissalke, called it a “sucker punch.” 

It doesn’t really matter why it happened, but the results were the same. Tomjanovich’s nose was broken, his jaw was broken, his skull was fractured, and he even had some spinal fluid leakage, according to Talk Basket. These injuries were life-threatening, but fortunately, Tomjanovich recovered after a few months.

For the brawl and ‘The Punch,’ the NBA suspended Washington for 60 days and fined him $10,000. This would be equal to a $40,000 fine when it’s adjusted for inflation. Tomjanovich recovered and continued to play in the NBA for a few more seasons, but he retired in 1981, in part due to ‘The Punch.’ 

Where they are now

Tomjanovich retired from playing, but he didn’t retire from the NBA. He soon became an assistant coach for the Rockets, and later, he became their head coach for almost a decade. He had a successful coaching career, and he eventually retired from coaching after coaching the Lakers for a season. Currently, he’s in the NBA coaching Hall of Fame, though his playing career was also well-renowned, too. 

Washington never really shook off the dirty reputation that he got from ‘The Punch,’ and he was let go from the Lakers after ‘The Punch.’ He played for other teams, including the Celtics and the Clippers, but, due to ‘The Punch,’ he never really lived up to his potential. He made it onto the All-Star team in 1980, but other than that, his career ended rather unremarkably in 1987. 

Unfortunately for Washington, his life took a turn for the worse after his retirement, as he engaged in some business fraud, according to Talk Basket. Currently, he’s serving 6-years in prison for that crime. 


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