Now with basketball back in action, Laker Nation has decided to continue to take you back through Laker history to recap important games, record-breaking performances and memorable news from the past 64 years of the franchise.
DECEMBER 9, 1977
HOUSTON ROCKETS 116 – LA LAKERS 105
WASHINGTON’S PUNCH ROCKS TOMJANOVICH, NBA CHANGES STANCE ON FIGHTING
While the NBA currently polices its players in any retaliatory actions or instances of fighting, the league at one time was synonymous to the NHL in terms of brawls. While players would get ejected from games for fighting, suspensions were incredibly uncommon and skirmishes were considered part of the action for the most part – at least until one December night when the visiting Houston Rockets came to Los Angeles.
When Rockets center Kevin Kunnert and Laker forward Kermit Washington would fight for a rebound, Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would come to intervene, pulling Kunnert back from the fray while leaving him vulnerable to a punch from Washington. As Kunnert would drop to the floor, Washington would see Houston forward Rudy Tomjanovich running towards him out of the corner of his eye. Instinctively, Washington would jab Tomjanovich directly to the face, knocking Tomjanovich to the floor, who began to writhe in pain as a pool of blood began to form. Known as a peacekeeper around the league, Tomjanovich’s collapse would cause the Forum crowd to grow deathly silent as medical staff began to tend to his injuries.
The punch, which then-Houston coach Tom Nissalke would call as “the most malicious thing I’ve ever seen in basketball,” nearly killed Tomjanovich. Tomjanovich would break his nose, fracture his skull, and leak blood and spinal fluid from his brain, saying that he could taste his spinal fluid on the way to the visitor’s locker room. Tomjanovich would miss the rest of the season recovering from surgery and was later awarded $3.2 million in a lawsuit against the Lakers, who would employ Tomjanovich as the successor to head coach Phil Jackson for the 2004-05 season. Tomjanovich would resign after 41 games due to health issues, but still remains a scout with the Lakers today.
Washington was given a $10,000 fine and a 60-day suspension that encompassed 26 games, then the longest punishment in NBA history. After Washington’s punch, the NBA began to take violence more seriously, making fighting ejections mandatory and handing out longer suspensions (though the current hot-trigger climate of officiating skirmishes also would stem from the Knicks-Bulls playoff series of the 1990s as well as the Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004). Washington would be traded during his suspension to the Celtics, with Washington bouncing around the league with three other clubs before retiring a second time after being cut during the 1987-88 season.
Quote of the Night: “I didn’t see it, but I heard it. It sounded like a melon that had been dropped on the floor.” – Former Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on teammate Kermit Washington’s punching of Houston’s Rudy Tomjanovich. – From Searching For Redemption: The Kermit Washington Story