In one very important sense, the NBA of the 1970s resembled the game of hockey as it is played in the NHL. NBA teams depended on superstars to score points and to convince people to buy tickets. Team owners and managers realized that those superstars needed to be protected because their injury or ejection would make or break a team’s whole season. For that reason, NBA teams almost always had someone on the floor to serve as the team’s enforcer, someone who would make sure that their superstar was not injured in a fight, someone who would often fight the superstar’s fight in his place, in fact. Kermit Washington, a fine player in his own right, also served as enforcer for the Los Angeles Lakers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Tomjanovich, who doctors say was lucky to survive the kind of punch that dislodged his skull, did not play again that season.
Just as importantly, the lives of Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich would never be the same. No matter what either player ever achieved on or off the court, each would always be remembered first for “the punch.” Each of the men played for several more seasons, and Tomjanovich even coached the Houston Rockets to two NBA championships in the nineties, but both of them are still haunted by what happened during ten seconds of one of the thousands of basketball games they played during their lives.
John Feinstein was able to get both men, their families, and many of the players and coaches who were on the floor that night to share their memories. Rudy Tomjanovich, try as he might, cannot get over the feeling that everyone he meets thinks of him as the player “who got nailed.” Kermit
Feinstein gives equal time to both men, exploring their childhoods, their days as amateur basketball stars, and their professional careers. He does not take sides or make excuses for what happened that night. Instead, he lets both men tell their versions of what happened and how that has affected their lives ever since. Strangely enough, it is Kermit Washington who seems to be having the hardest time dealing with the whole thing.
Rated at: 4.0