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November 05, 2002|Steve Horn

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What: "The Punch" by John Feinstein

Price: $25.95

One would hope that it was not fate that brought Kermit Washington's fist together with Rudy Tomjanovich's face on Dec. 9, 1977, because not even fate should be that cruel.

The infamous, horrifying and nearly fatal moment that is chronicled in John Feinstein's book took less than 10 seconds, but its effects linger to this day.

After Washington's punch, the NBA got tough on fighting. League officials saw what one big, strong man could do to another with his fists, and that's one reason why skirmishes such as the recent one between Rick Fox and Doug Christie are dealt with so quickly and harshly.

Feinstein, author of "Season on the Brink" and "A Good Walk Spoiled" is best known for his in-depth work while following his subject for a long period of time. In "The Punch," he goes back a quarter of a century and shows what that one moment meant.

Few people know that Tomjanovich could have died that night at the Forum because of massive facial injuries. Or that the punch led to the NBA adding a third referee. Or that Jerry West said one reason he got out of coaching was because of the bloody event. Or that the same man was responsible for both players being drafted. That was Pete Newell, and it was his off-season work with Washington in the early 1970s that led to his famous Big Man Camp.

Both players retired at virtually the same time in 1982. They hated being defined by the punch. Tomjanovich, who has battled alcoholism, overcame his insecurity to become a two-time NBA champion as coach of the Houston Rockets. Washington, who has had many personal and professional setbacks since 1977, would like to become a coach, but he feels he is being blacklisted by the NBA.

It is a remarkable piece of work about two good men linked by one awful moment.

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