Why a Punch is no laughing matter. Extra scrutiny in British basketball’s American approach. And Wolves ties.

It was over in barely a second but it changed the NBA forever. A dark moment that almost saw Rudy Tomjanovich fade to black.

When a brawl broke out on the court during a game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers on a night in 1977, it seemed of its time – a physical skirmish in a league not then renowned for self-discipline.

This time was different. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Kunnert in a stand-off, others jumped in with both hands and fists became weapons.

Kunnert was floored by one swing. Above him, others were losing their cool. “I’ll never forget that sound.” Kareem recounted, years later. “Suddenly I heard this crack, like a melon landing on concrete.”

The arena went silent. Kermit Washington, a tough but unassuming giant with the Lakers, had floored his Rockets rival with such force that those watching feared the worst.

“There was so much blood,” Abdul-Jabbar added. “It was an awful feeling,” added his coach Jerry West.

The prognosis was that Tomjanovich, later to coach the Rockets to two championships, had seen his skull dislodged. He was, in the coming days, a net’s width from death. Washington was never the same again. Their tale, as chronicled in John Feinstein’s brilliant book, The Punch, is a salutary lesson why the NBA out-lawed its in-game bouts and why others exercised greater caution.

Bare-knuckle fighting, when dealing with over-sized, super-strength players, can end in more than tears.

There is, in many ways, a lot of similarities between Kermit Washington and Paul Sturgess. Good reputations for which many would vouch. Personalities of the ilk which would make them unlikely to get caught up in a meaty fracas.

But by all accounts, Friday’s melee at Newton Aycliffe was out of control. Aggravation, ugliness. And that’s just on the court. Throw the reported misbehaviour of some so-called supporters into the mix and it’s no wonder that the last ten seconds of Cheshire Phoenix’s visit to Durham Wildcats is set to pose a few major dilemmas when the British Basketball League’s disciplinary committee convene in the coming days.

A partial decision is expected by the end of the week. Greater penalties may be forthcoming once all the evidence has been gathered. Credit to Cheshire for immediately suspending Sturgess for apparently throwing a wild punch at Panos Mayindombe and completely losing his rag. And also credit to the one-time Harlem Globetrotter for issuing an immediate apology for what, many would argue, is an act wholly out of character.

At the time, six players from Durham were ejected, plus Sturgess. Under BBL rules, each disqualifying foul carries an automatic one-game ban, unless appealed. But what, additionally, to do about a problem called Tiny?

The precedents are few and far between. Mike Creppy, also of Cheshire, received a one-match suspension last season with an altercation with Glasgow’s Gareth Murray. Many would argue it should have been more.

It needs a delve further back into history to find a similar incident to the one in Durham. To 1999 in fact, when Yorick Williams and Rico Alderson, then of Derby Storm, were involved in a fight with Chester Jets Shawn Hartley. It saw the game abandoned after just 28 seconds with the maul spilling over to such an extent that the police became involved when the club’s physio was left with a dislocated jaw.

Hartley was handed a seven-game sit-out. Williams and Alderson were kicked out for four months, ending their campaigns. “We must learn from the implications of this affair and move forward,” said Mike Smith, then the league’s chief executive declared.

Fortunately, no-one in Durham sustained serious injury. But you can only bristle at what impact the 7-8 Sturgess could have delivered, had he connected at full tilt. Washington was banned for 60 days, then the largest punishment ever handed out for an on-court incident in the NBA. It would seem the very least amount the Phoenix’s normally-gentle giant should sit now. This cannot be a league where such deeds go unpunished.

But Durham should not be seen solely as blameless. Over and above the bench clearance, they must look at what role their fans played in the wake of the incident – and how the taunts and rushing to courtside could have escalated the issue – and how any misbehaviour can be cleaned up. It is claimed that Cheshire’s players were confronted post-game, with one, according to Nix sources, alleged to have been struck by a wheelchair.

The Wildcats’ statement stated that the on-court melee “has no place in sport, entertainment or society.” Neither does provocation that ventures beyond mere banter.

Let the scrutiny begin

The saga of whether British basketball will get an injection of cash from the United States continues … with both sides currently taking a detailed look at the deal on offer and the value it might represent. Although MVP understands some BBL clubs have demanded greater transparency around the BBall UK’s proposed £38 million investment if they are to take the overture seriously.

While Basketball Wales, perhaps seeing pound signs in lights, are understood to have backed the proposal put forward, Basketball England’s approval remains conditional on their review committee whose work and deadline has increasingly slowed, especially with chairman Jan Hagen and chief executive Huw Morgan thought to be under increasing pressure to step down.

With the recruitment of the independent board of the reconstituted British Basketball Federation – which is scheduled to oversee the sport from 2016 onwards – almost complete, it seems increasingly inevitable that any decision on whether to accept to reject BBall UK’s funds will be taken jointly by the BBL and the three home nations, with input from those involved in the all-new BBF.

Which is why Basketball Scotland has appointed the same financial advisors as the league to crunch the figures advanced by a New York-based equity fund that would see them buy a majority stake in the professional game, as well as snapping up the rights over the national teams and grassroots initiatives.

Only a tiny share of the investment pot is earmarked for the three national governing bodies. What would be required from them for even a modest injection remains unclear.

“We don’t know what our return would be from that – and we want to understand if the projections for that are realistic, based on BBall UK’s figures,” revealed Basketball Scotland chief executive Kevin Pringle.

“We want to figure out what the long-term business case would be in terms of the value of our rights. We’re a small piece of the puzzle but we want to be well-informed.

“I don’t think they’d have any direct influence on what’s happening in Scotland. But we’d be contributing to it though the British Federation and then we may be asked to give up some of our commercial rights and put them into a central pot. They’d probably give money to BBF and then onto us by negotiation.”

Deadline busting

Manchester Giants bringing back Rob Marsden and Worcester Wolves getting belated clearance to land Lithuanian shooting guard Robertas Bitinas represented the sum total of the BBL’s pre-deadline signing moves.

But it is the Wolves possible link-up with ACB outfit Valencia which is more eye-catching a manoeuvre.

The Euroleague outfit’s sporting director, Chechu Mulero, visited the city last week to discuss a partnership which could include training camps and friendly fixtures for Valencia’s senior team in Worcester, collaborative coaching clinics and player development schemes.

“I had heard a great deal about the Basketball programme and the international reputation of Worcester before my visit,” he said.

“Having now been able to see for myself that, together with excellent facilities, the University has a very exciting programme, I can see that it is something which our Club would be happy to be associated with.”

More forward thinking from Worcester. Another avenue to bring exposure to the BBL.

Wolves Valencia

Outside shots

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BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

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