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Houston Matters

The Punch: How An Infamous Moment In Houston Sports Changed Basketball Forever

On Dec. 9, 1977, Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich was punched in the face during a fight in a game against the Lakers. Beyond the severe injuries the blow caused, writer John Feinstein talks about how the incident changed two lives — and the — NBA forever.

Kermit Washington Punching Rudy Tomjanovich
Lakers forward Kermit Washington (upper right) punches Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich during a fight that broke out in a game between the two teams on Dec. 9, 1977.


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Tomorrow (Dec. 9, 1977) marks the 40th anniversary of an infamous moment in Houston – and national – sports history. Rockets forward (and later championship-winning coach) Rudy Tomjanovich was punched in the face by Kermit Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers. The blow shattered Tomjanovich's jaw and caused life-threatening head injuries, which sidelined Tomjanovich for five months.

Fortunately, he recovered – but his playing career never really did. He retired in his mid-30s but eventually went on to coach the Rockets to two NBA Championships in the 1990s.

The story of that infamous moment is told by sports writer John Feinstein in his 2002 book The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever.

Feinstein talks with Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty about the incident and its legacy.

Feinstein has two new books out this fall: The First Major—Inside the 2016 Ryder Cup, and the young adult novel Backfield Boys—a Football Mystery in Black and White.