The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever

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9780316279727: The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever

Christmas, 1977 and an on-court fight breaks out between the Houston Rockets and the LA Lakers. Rudy Tomjanovitch races to break it up and is met by Kermit Washington's fist, delivering one of the worst punches ever seen in sport. Basketball was changed for ever. Tomjanovitch was a Rockets all-star, 6'7" and white. The punch dislodged his skull from his head, leaving him needing years of surgery and therapy. Washington was an average player for the Lakers, 6'8" and one of six athletes in the history of the NCAA to be both an academic all-American and a basketball all-American. By all accounts an exemplary man - until the split-second in which he threw his arm forward and devastated his reputation. The fact that Washington is black hasn't helped his treatment in the press or public opinion and no team in the NBA will hire him as a coach. Meanwhile, Tomjanovitch is head coach of the Rockets and the US Olympic team. Feinstein chronicles the untold story of what went wrong that night, the drastic response by the NBA, the conspiracy theories about the fight's origins and a story of how one man's mistake has haunted two good men for their entire adult lives.

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Review:

In 1977, Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington became entwined in a single punch that would change not only their lives, but how professional basketball is played today. Because the punch dislodged Tomjanovich's skull and nearly destroyed both men's careers, the scuffle never settled as a dusty bit of NBA trivia. Instead, it nearly superseded both men's notable achievements. The history of that punch (it could not, by any standards, be considered a fight) and the fate of the two men are the subjects of John Feinstein's The Punch.

In the early days of the NBA, teams had their stars and their "enforcers." Enforcers such as Washington protected star players on the court with their willingness to mix it up. With concise prose, Feinstein reports on this era, following strings of trades, drafts, and personal relationships to their nexus. Those who do not think about basketball on a statistical level may occasionally find themselves lost, but Feinstein, ever conscious of his subject, ties the tangents neatly to the core of the scuffle that led to the infamous punch.

Thorough and thoughtful, Feinstein does not make any excuses, nor does he vilify. He simply traces the web of both men's lives back to their adolescent years when it was not about the NBA, nor the punch, but about the game. Anyone who has ever wondered about these two men, or the history of the NBA, will want to read this book. --Karin Rosman

About the Author:

John Feinstein is the bestselling author of THE LAST AMATEURS, THE MAJORS and A GOOD WALK SPOILED. He writes regularly for numerous sports magazines and is a regular commentator on US sports radio.

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