Former Hawkeye great Kevin Kunnert looks back at his career
Dubuque native was star center at Iowa in early 1970s and played nine seasons in NBA
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kevin Kunnert only played for three seasons at Iowa, and he played nearly a half century ago, and yet, his 914 career rebounds still ranks second in program history.
Freshman were ineligible when Kunnert enrolled at Iowa in the fall of 1969.
But the Dubuque native made the most of his three seasons on the court at Iowa, finishing with a 12.7 career rebounding average, and with 48 double-doubles.
Kunnert also scored 1,145 points as a Hawkeye center and then would go on to play for nine seasons in the NBA where he literally battled against some of the best centers in NBA history, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton.
Kunnert was our guest on the Hawk Fanatic radio show and podcast on Wednesday and he spent about 30 minutes reminiscing about his college and NBA career.
He told some interesting stories, including how he responded to twice being elbowed in the face by Bill Walton, and he talked about Luka Garza’s rise to stardom as the current Iowa center.
Kunnert also talked in great detail about the ugly incident in 1977 when Kermit Washington nearly killed Rudy Tomjanovich with a vicious punch to the face.
Kunnert and Tomjanovich were teammates with the Houston Rockets, while Washington was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, and alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at the time.
Trouble started when Kunnert and Washington both contended for a rebound. Kunnert eventually won the hotely contested battle, but it was very physical, causing Abdul-Jabbar to wrestle with Kunnert.
Washington, whose job partly was to protect Abdul-Jabbar, stayed behind in the backcourt to make sure that nothing happened.
After Abdul-Jabbar and Kunnert had stopped fighting, Washington grabbed Kunnert’s shorts in order to keep him from getting back on offense.
Kunnert then threw an elbow that hit Washington in the upper arm.
Abdul-Jabbar then ran up behind Kunnert and grabbed his arms to pull him away, but it also left Kunnert defenseless for Washington’s first punch, which hit Kunnert in the head and brought him to his knees.
Washington then noticed Tomjanovich running towards the altercation and he hit Tomjanovich with a right-hand punch that fractured Tomjanovich’s face about one-third of an inch away from his skull.
The punch also left Tomjanovich unconscious in a pool of blood.
Washington said afterwards that he didn’t know if Tomjanovich was trying to be a peacemaker or trying to fight him, so he threw a punch in self-defense.
Tomjanovich fortunately made a full recovery and would go on to lead the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles as head coach in the mid-1990s.
Washington was fined $10,000 and suspended for 60 days, missing 26 games. It was, at the time, the longest suspension for an on-court incident in NBA history.
The incident also resulted in the NBA enacting strict penalties for on-court fights, which had become a serious problem in the 1970s.
Kunnert currently lives in Portland, Ore., where he enjoys hunting and fishing.
He also enjoys watching his alma mater play, and has watched more than usual this season, partly due to the global pandemic, but also because of his interest in Garza.
Iowa (20-7, 14-6) is seeded third in the Big Ten Tournament and will play in the quarterfinals on Friday in Indianapolis.
Kunnert was recruited to Iowa by Ralph Miller, but then Miller left for Oregon State after Kunnert’s freshman season.
Kunnert played for three seasons under Dick Schultz and became one of the top centers in program history. Iowa didn’t make the NCAA Tournament in those three seasons, but to no fault of Kunnert, who grabbed 227 rebounds as a sophomore, 353 as a junior and 334 as a senior.
We appreciate Kevin Kunnert being our guest and for being so candid during the interview.