Kermit Washington, a native Washingtonian, attended Coolidge High School and American University, where he became an All-America. He is one of only seven players in NCAA history to average 20 rebounds and 20 points a game over a full season.
He was first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1973.
In his seven-year National Basketball Association career, Washington has been traded three times and changed teams a fourth time recently when Commissioner Larry O'Brien sent him to Portland as partial compensation for San Diego's signing of Bill Walton.
Washington was thrust into the lime-light during the 1977-78 season when, in a game at the Forum against the Houston Rockets, he punched Rudy Tomjamovich in the face during a melee, causing serious damage to Tomjanovich. Washington was fined $10,000 by the league and suspended 60 days, the severest penalty ever imposed for fighting in NBA history. A lawsuit followed.
Washington talked about his career and the game itself in a recent interview with staff writer David DuPree.
Q: How has the Rudy Tomjamovich incident affect you?
A: I haven't read a newspaper since it happened and so I don't know what people are saying about me. I do know that they aren't all good things, though.
It's more important for you to believe in yourself, anyway. That whole thing made me realize more and more that money isn't all that important. I realize that one incident like this can result in a lawsuit and take it all away.
I've always tried to please everybody. I realize that I should just try to please Kermit Washington and not care about what people think of me or are saying about me unless they are people I really care about. A lot of people want to see professional athletes fail. I think a lot of it is because they are frustrated in their lives, maybe, and if they see you fail, you are kind of coming down to their level. I think that's sad, but that's the way it is sometimes.
I'll always be the same type player, though. I'll never play any differently.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a player?
A: I made it in this league by hustle. I consider myself an average player. When I came into the league, I wasn't even that, though.
I play my role, which is to rebound, play defense and score a few points if the opportunity arises. I just want to be on a winning team and do whatever the coach wants me to to help us win.I'd rather be a winner than anything else.
Q: Are you concerned about your image and the way youngsters view you?
A: I want to be successful and I think that, to a great extent, determines what kind of image you have.
There are too many people playing in the NBA who are successful that I would never want to be like. They project the image of being a good player but they are so hypocritical in the rest of their lives. I just hope that kids can look at the good traits.
I don't think it's good for a young person to want to be a Dr. J. (Julius Erving), or a Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or a Kermit Washington or any player. eBe yourself and get the most out of life you can.
Basketball is such an illusion that it destroys just as many people as it helps. I know a lot of guys from D.C. who couldn't handle life once their basketball playing was over.
No one cares about you 10 years after you've played. They don't even remember your name.The important thing is to go for personal goals and find out what will make you happy. Basketball is a roller coaster. Only a few people go out heroes. No matter how well you are doing it's only a matter of time before you're a bum.
Q: Was there ever a time when you thought you might not make it in the NBA or when you thought about quitting?
A: I always thought I'd make it. When the Lakers drafted me, they told me I wouldn't play but I didn't believe them. I just wasn't ready to play forward when I first came into the league. It took a lot of work, but I kept believing I'd do well.
It's been hard at times, but I wouldn't give it up for anything. It's the effort you remember more sometimes than the actual attaining of a goal. The fun and the best memories are in the struggle.
Q: What are your feelings about compensation and how does it feel having been shipped around to three different teams?
A: It hurts, but you have to keep playing. How else can you make this much money and have the opportunity to get ahead if not in basketball? I'm just thankful to be a basketball player. I realized it more when I came back to D.C. and drove around the city. It's bad in the inner cities and I think it's unfortunate that a lot of people who live there can't see what the world is like beyond that. I'd be terrified if my kids had to grow up in the inner city today.
I think it's sad that some kids don't know that life can be any better. I was lucky enough to escape that and get exposed to other things. I liked what I saw so I tried to become a part of it.
Compensations and trades and things like that seem unfair a lot of the time and they make some people unhappy, but it's the law in the NBA and you have to live with it.
It hurts when you're traded. You feel like you aren't wanted, but that's basketball. Most teams don't want to build championship teams from the bottom anymore. They want to buy them or trade for them. Everything is instant now -- instant coffee, instant championships.
Q: What fellow NBA players do you admire or respect most?
A: I really respect Adrian Dantley a lot and I'm not just saying that because he's from Washington, too. I've known him for more than 10 years and he is a very conscientious and hard worker. He works hard in the games and in the offseason. He's also a good person.
You notice things like that because I've met some superstars that I've been very disappointed in. Some of these guys don't conduct themselves very well.
I like Wes Unseld a great deal, too. I like the role he plays for the Bullets and his unselfishness. He is the consummate team player. He doesn't care that much about scoring, but he knows how to win.
The more I play, though, and see some other people, I realize what I don't want to be like.
Q: In light of all you have been through, is the game still fun for you?
A: When you're winning it's fun, but there are a lot of things about the game in the NBA that aren't. Being on the road so much is depressing; also the pressure of having to win spoils it. It wasn't fun sometimes even in college because of that pressure to win at all costs.
I play almost every day in the summer and that's fun because the outcome doesn't affect anyone. Here (in the NBA), there is pressure and everyone feels that they have to win or else. That leads to a lot of insecurities. You have to concentrate more on winning than on having fun, or you won't survive.
Q: What will you do after basketball?
A: I don't know. Right now my goal is to just take care of my family. I have a lot of people in my immediate family that I want to get straight financially. I don't want to see anyone down and not making it and because of that I spread myself a little too thin sometimes.
I just haven't had the time to think much in terms of a career after basketball.