1. Various Descriptions of Rudy’s Injuries
As a result of the shot to the face from Kermit Washington, Rudy Tomjanovich suffered a fractured skull, broken jaw, broken nose and leakage of spinal fluid, among other facial injuries. According to an L.A. Times article from 1985, surgery had to be done on his face once the swelling went down.
Many sources have given their accounts of exactly how bad Rudy’s injuries were, which are pretty gruesome and tragic.
The Chief Surgeon:
There were serious doubts that Tomjanovich would even survive the punch. In “The Breaks of the Game”, a 1981 book by David Halberstam, the chief surgeon remarked that operating on Rudy’s face was “like piecing together a badly shattered eggshell with Scotch tape.”
The doctor continued, “I have seen many people with far less serious injuries not make it.” In fact, the doctor said he had only seen that kind of damage as a result of someone being hit by a baseball bat or a two-by-four.
“I didn’t see it, but I heard it,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “It sounded like a melon that had been dropped on the floor. I turned and looked and Rudy was on the floor and there was a pool of blood right around his face and it started expanding.”
The Halberstam book specified even further that Kareem stated it was like a watermelon being dropped on concrete.
Rudy Tomjanovich and Dr. Paul Toffel
Another excerpt from the 2003 book “The Punch: One Night, Two Lives and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever” by John Feinstein details an exchange from Rudy T and a doctor who specialized in head trauma, Dr. Paul Toffel.
When asked by Dr. Toffel if he could taste anything, Tomjanovich responded: “Yeah, I do. It doesn’t taste like blood either. It’s very bitter. What is it?”
“Spinal fluid,” replied the doctor. “You’re in trouble, Rudy”, continued Toffel. We’re going to work very hard to get you through this.”
From that point on, Tomjanovich went from somehow wanting to get back to the arena to finish the game to a state of shock, knowing he was in a fight for his life.
The punch ended up changing the way violence in sports is handled forever, and fortunately for everyone, Rudy Tomjanovich made a complete recovery and enjoyed a successful few more years playing before bringing the city of Houston two unforgettable championships as a head coach decades later.