Forward Kermit Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers has been suspended without pay for at least 60 days - and possibly for the remainder of the National Basketball Association season - and fined a record $10,000, the NBA office announced yesterday in New York.
Commissioner Lawrence O'Brien punished Washington for punching Kevin Kunnert and Rudy Tomjanovich of the Houston Rockets in a game Friday night.
O'Brien said that at the end of 60 days (during which the Lakers are scheduled to play 26 games) Washington may apply for reinstatement and the commissioner then would determine whether the suspension would extend through the end of the season.
The penalty came far from satisfying Rocket management, which threatened a lawsuit against the Lakers and called for suspension of the Los Angeles franchise.
In Houstin, Rocket general manager and president Ray Patterson also asked for compensation for loss of Tomjanovich, the Rockets' leading scorer who suffered a broken jaw, broken nose and concussion in the incident. The Rockets say Tomjanovich will be out of action for two months.
"At the present time I cannot applaud the decision," Patterson said. "This punishment is only the tip of the iceberg."
Patterson called Washington's blow "brutal" and then added:
"Kermit swung the most vicious punch I have ever seen. You could hear it all over the arena.
The general manager said he did not know when his proposed suit would be filed, but said he was 100 per cent sure that it would be. Patterson said attorneys for both the club and Tomjanovich were convinced there were grounds for legal action.
Early in the season Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was fined a then record $5,000 for delivering a retaliating blow against Milwaukee's Kent Benson. The suspension of Washington, a graduate of Coolidge High and American University of Washington, D.C., is reportedly the longest in NBA history.
Patterson said Tomjanovich was merely trying to break up a fracas between Rocket center Kunnert and Washington Patterson said Washington then swung and hit Tomjanovich flush in the face.
Tomjanovich was placed in intensive care for 36 hours in a Los Angeles hospital. He is expected to be released from thhe hospital within 10 days and a hospital spokesman said yesterday Tomjanovich's condition was stable.
A day after the incident Washington said, "I saw him coming at me and I just swung. I had no idea who it was. Now that I have talked to other people I understand Rudy was not going to fight. He's never been in fight. It was an honest, unfortunate mistake."
Houston coach Tom Nissalke called the incident "the most malicious thing I've ever seen in basketball.
"It was a demned sucker punch. Washington has no guts. If he's not out for the year, it's a disgrace."
Kunnert charged that Washington had started the scuffling. "He grabbed my trunks," said Kunnert. "I tried to swat his hand away and he began punching."
Patterson said the NBA should crack down on what her referred to as the "enforcers" of the league.
"I don't think Kermit should be left out there on a limb by himself," said Patterson. "He is a product of professional basketball.
Patterson also asked the NBA Board of Governors to convene a meeting as soon as possible to study amending the bylaws and make a franchise responsible for the violent actions of its players.
"The day of the so-called enforcer is over in pro basketball," he said. "It is up to the commissioner and the Board of Governors to ensure that it is."
The Lakers play at Houston Wednesday night before what is expected to be large crowd.
"There will be no retaliation on the playing court by the Rockets," said Patterson. He said extra security had been acquired for the game.