Kermit Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers leveled Rudy Tomjanovich of the Houston Rockets during a scuffle. Washington, saw Tomjanovich approach out of the corner of his eye, turned and threw a nasty right that shattered Tomjanovich’s face and nearly killed him. Tomjanovich made a full recovery, was an All-Star in 1979 and won two NBA titles as the Rockets’ head coach in 1994 and 1995. Washington was fined $10,000 and suspended 60 days. The Associated Press is republishing verbatim the story from Dec. 9, 1977:
Houston Rockets Coach Tom Nissalke, infuriated by “the most malicious thing I’ve ever seen in basketball,” called for the suspension of Los Angeles forward Kermit Washington for the duration of the season for his part in a brawl which marred the Rockets’ 116-105 victory over the Lakers Friday night.
The muscular Washington pummeled Houston center Kevin Kunnert early in the third period of the game at Los Angeles. When Houston’s Rudy Tomjanovich tried to intervene, apparently as peacemaker, Washington whirled around and hit him flush in the face, breaking his nose and cutting him from the left nostril to the lip.
“It was a damned sucker punch,” declared Nissalke. “Washington has no guts. If he’s not out for the year, it’s a disgrace.”
The next move is up to National Basketball Association Commissioner Larry O’Brien, who has been waging a long-standing war on violence and who is empowered to suspend a player who engages in a fight as well as issue a fine of up to $10,000.
Washington, who was ejected following the incident, left the Forum before the end of the game.
The fight began after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of Los Angeles missed a hook shot. Kunnert grabbed the rebound, threw an outlet pass and started to run upcourt.
“He grabbed my trunks,” Kunnert, a skinny 7-footer, said of Washington. “I tried to swat his hand away, and he began punching.”
Kunnert, trying to shake free, swung an elbow at Washington and the Laker forward responded with a flurry of short punches.
Then Abdul-Jabbar came over. “I tried to get between Kermit and Kunnert and stop it before it really got started,” he said. He did that by grabbing Kunnert, which is when Tomjanovich came over. Washington turned his attention away from Kunnert and clobbered Tomjanovich.
It is the second major fight of the season involving the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand while punching Milwaukee’s Kent Benson in the season opener and was sidelined for 20 games.
“I feel really sorry for Jerry,” Nissalke said of Lakers Coach Jerry West. “It’s been two dumb moves by two big players — the height of stupidity. Rudy T never fights. Most guys in professional sports don’t try to destroy each other. They stick together.”
West said, “I didn’t see the play, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he (Washington) was suspended.”
Calvin Murphy, the fiercely competitive 5-foot-9 guard of the Houston Rockets put it all in perspective.
“Someone is going to get killed one of these days,” he said. “Do you realize how big some of these guys are?”
As for the basketball, Murphy scored 28 points and Moses Malone and John Lucas had 20 points apiece to lead the Rockets to victory. Tomjanovich had 19 points before being kayoed.