A skilled big defensive forward, Washington was known for his ability to gather rebounds. He averaged 9.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in ten NBA seasons and played in the All-Star Game once. Washington was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the fifth overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft. Over the course of his career he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Diego Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors.
Before entering the NBA, Washington played collegiate basketball at American University and graduated with a degree in psychology. He was named an academic All-American his junior year, and was a first team All-American his senior season.
Washington is best remembered for punching opposing player Rudy Tomjanovich during an on-court fight on December 9, 1977. Washington was engaged in a brawl when he saw Tomjanovich running towards the altercation. Washington, thinking someone was trying to hit him from behind, swung around and hit Tomjanovich with a violent roundhouse. The punch, which took Tomjanovich by surprise, fractured his face about 1/3 of an inch away from his skull and left Tomjanovich unconscious in a pool of blood in the middle of the arena. Players involved often say that right after Tomjanovich collapsed, the silence at the arena, filled with shocked fans, was "the loudest silence you have ever heard." As it turned out, Tomjanovich came very close to dying on the court. Besides having the bone structure of his face detached from his skull, he was leaking blood and spinal fluid into his skull capsule. Tomjanovich would later recount that at the time of the incident, he believed a scoreboard fell on him.
Washington, then playing with the Los Angeles Lakers, was suspended for two months, missing 26 games--at the time, the longest suspension for an on-court incident in NBA history. Tomjanovich, then of the Houston Rockets, missed the entire season. He later won a legal judgment against the Lakers and was awarded $3.2 million, even though the original sum sought was only $2.4 million.
The incident is remembered as one of the most frightening in the NBA's history. It subsequently resulted in the league enacting strict penalties for on-court fights, which had become all too common in the 1970s. Current NBA commissioner David Stern, then the NBA's chief counsel, later said that the incident made NBA officials realize that "we couldn't allow men that big and that strong to go around throwing punches at each other." Today, any player who attempts to punch another--even if he misses--is automatically ejected from the game.
Effect on Washington's careerEdit
Despite the incident, Washington had an otherwise good reputation, and it was often stated at the time that he was being used as a scapegoat for the NBA's recurring problems with violence. It must be remembered that a similar event occurred during the opening game of the 1977-1978 season, a couple of months before the Tomjanovich incident. Two minutes into the game, Washington's teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had punched the Milwaukee Bucks' Kent Benson in retaliation for an overly aggressive elbow. It happened that Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand and was out for two months; otherwise, he could have potentially inflicted serious harm and warranted a suspension. However, the stigma associated with Tomjanovich's near-death experience would follow Washington for years even after his retirement. Washington would only play for five more years in the NBA, being traded frequently because teams were unwilling to sign him.
Since retiring in 1983, Washington has run restaurants and is a founder and operator of a number of charitable organizations. He has also served in a coaching role with Stanford University, and worked at Pete Newell's fabled "Big Man Camp" for 15 years.. In 1995 he founded The 6th Man Foundation which is otherwise known as Project Contact Africa.
In addition, Washington is involved with charity work in Africa for which he has drawn much praise from a plethora of people of all different walks of life. He also managed to reach out to the NBA, which—despite Washington's reputation—has actually made monetary contributions to his charity work. However, he was unable to land a coaching job in the NBA or any league aligned with it until 2005, when he served as an assistant coach with the NBDL's Asheville Altitude for one season. That one season, however, he helped lead the Altitude to the NBDL title.
NBA TV recently ran a documentary on Kermit Washington, in which an interviewed Rudy Tomjanovich said that he holds no ill will or resentment towards Washington: "I have to wish the best for him. I don't like to see people suffer. He made a mistake and everyone deserves another chance."
- This is his official charity website by Reza Davachi and Real-ware.com
- Legal Timeout with Kermit... The Coach by Jeff Twiss @ NBA.com
- Where Are They Now- Kermit Washington by Laura Kurz @ nbrpa.com
- Career Statistics from Basketball-Reference.com
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