The Punch

Sports Illustrated’s issue, Sportsrage Posted by Hello

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.”

John Feinstein’s The PunchPosted by Hello

“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.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

3 comments on “The Punch

  1. Suppose “The Punch” story happened in other professions? Say a preacher gets ticked off at someone yawning in the third pew? He steps down from the pulpit and starts wailing on the guy. Or a counselor is just sick and tired of his client’s problems and cold-cocks him in the nose? What if a Broadway performer didn’t like the lady coughing in the gallery and headed up there and gave her a black eye? What if a hockey player…wait, that already happens.


  2. hey greg, feinstein is great. I’ve not yet read The Punch, but probably will before long. I’ve read “Civil War” about Army-Navy football, “The Last Amateurs” about college basketball in the Patriot league, and “A March To Madness” about ACC basketball. All very very good. I’m an ACC (more specifically, Duke & Coach K) fan so that one was my favorite. I have a few other books of his but haven’t gotten around to them yet, but so far I’ve not been disappointed.

    greg fielder


  3. Greg

    I was lucky to work for the Pistons (Camps and Clinics) while I finished my playing days at good ol’ Rochester College.

    The night of “the punch” I was speaking at a youth retreat and some of the guys said, “hey that’s where your’re from…wow, what’s it like to live there?”

    Where the Pistons play (Auburn Hills) is actually 40 plus miles from Detroit–it is located in the second wealthiest county in the US (Oakland). I think what happened that Friday was the result of ego, adrenaline, and alcohol. Fans and players who think they have “rights” and are worthy of “respect”–it was classic liberal individualism played out in America’s truest religion, professional sports (college is the Sunday night JV service)

    It was shameful, and terrrible to watch. It is amazing what people can to other people in the name of self-defense. If you go to Mitch Albom (“Tuesdays With Morrie”) has written several columns on the incident. Look for his link on the left side of the main page.

    Great insights into SI and the incident in the 70’s.

    Josh Graves


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