Book Excerpt: 'The Punch'

John Lucas had been in the lane when the whistle blew. He continued to the basket, put an uncontested layup through the hoop, and caught the ball as it came through the net. He turned and ran back to the scene with the ball still in his hands. "My first instinct was to turn and run," he said. "I saw Rudy, I looked at Kermit, and I thought, 'Oh my God, what has happened here?'" he said. "I remember I had the ball in my hands, and the first thing I thought was that I just wanted to get out of there. I just didn't want to be at that place. It was too gruesome."

Tomjanovich knew none of this when he came to. He wasn't in that much pain when Vandervoort got him into a sitting position, but he was confused. It hadn't been the scoreboard; it had been Kermit Washington. "I was dazed and woozy, and Tricky was telling me Kermit hit me. All I could think was, 'Why would he hit me? I wasn't even fighting with him.'"

Nowadays, he wouldn't have been allowed to move. He would have been told to stay down and a stretcher would have been brought out for him. But this was 1977. He got up slowly, aided by Vandervoort, with a towel over his face to try to stop the blood. Getting up, he looked right at West. It was then that he understood for the first time that this was more than a bloody nose.

"He just had this look on his face," Tomjanovich said. "It was the kind of look you see when someone can't believe what they're seeing. I remember thinking I must look pretty bad. But I had no idea how bad."

Tomjanovich had no idea how fortunate he was that Vandervoort had figured out very quickly that he had a serious injury. As he left the court with Vandervoort, Tomjanovich was trailed by Dr. Clarence Shields, one of the Lakers' team doctors. Washington had already left, escorted by security and by Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Lakers' senior team doctor, who went back to the locker room with him to examine his hand.

As he walked off, Tomjanovich could hear a man directly over the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms screaming profanities at him. "He should have killed you, Tomjanovich," the man yelled. "Should have killed you."

Standing in front of the man, eyes filled with tears, was a youngster Tomjanovich recognized as someone who had come to his basketball camp years earlier. Tomjanovich wasn't sure whether the boy was crying because of what he looked like or because of what the man was yelling. Either way, he went from wobbly to furious in an instant.

"Let's get this done fast, Trick," he said. "Put some gauze in my nose or whatever and get me back out there."

Vandervoort said nothing. Once they were out of the arena and in the hallway under the stands, they had to walk past the Lakers' dressing room and around a corner to where the visitors' dressing room was located. The first person Tomjanovich saw in the hallway was Washington. By then the media was in the hallway — Bonk and George White from Houston and two of the three Lakers beat writers — Rich Levin of the Herald-Examiner and Mitch Chortkoff from the Orange County Register. Green was still on the court.

"Kermit was still wound up," Bonk said. "He was pacing up and down in the hallway, just all pumped up on adrenaline, when Rudy and Vandervoort got there."

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