The Pacers-Piston Brawl will go down as a watershed moment in NBA and American sports history, when the line between fan and player was not only blurred but obliterated in an ugly display by both fans and players. You can hear about and read the story yourself, but what I want to draw your attention to is “The Punch.”
“The Punch” happened twenty-seven years ago today, December 9, 1977. Lakers power forward Kermit Washington hit Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch so brutal and violent it almost killed him. It was the beginning of the end of both Washington’s and Tomjanovich’s basketball playing careers.
One of the great sports writers, John Feinstein, wrote a book about what this 1977 brawl did to the NBA and to the lives of two players whose lives were changed forever. Feinstein’s book is called, The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight that Changed Basketball Forever. I’m in the middle of listening to it on tape in the car. Feinstein sets up the back story of the league in the late 70s, the lives of Washington and Tomjanovich, and the roller coaster aftermath that has been their lot. Tomjanovich went on to be a successful coach of the Rockets and the 2000 USA Olympics team. Washington had much less success and many turned him away, not wanting to be associated with him. But Feinstein tells a story of redemption, of a life turned around in spite of the awful chain of events that the one second punch set in motion.