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Art Heyman: Big Time Game Changer for Duke Basketball

Art Heyman
Art Heyman

Art Heyman arrived at Camp Wahoo in a flashy convertible with a gorgeous blonde in the passenger seat. Wahoo was a kids’ basketball camp held at Miller School just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. Bones McKinney and Gene Corrigan were there, along with great players like Jerry West, Lenny Chappell, and John Wetzel. Heyman was a star at Duke. According to author, Pat Conroy, Heyman was a wiseass, Jewish, in your face, no-holds-barred guy who played like an urban Black. He represented what, to camp counselors and campers, was a radical image for an elite college athlete.

Conroy, who was a counselor and a Citadel point guard, writes that his job was to showcase the exceptional talents of players like Chappell, Wetzel and Heyman. Heyman would shout, “Right here, peanut,” and he’d feed Heyman the ball at exactly the right second for Art to out-muscle or out-finesse another star for a spectacular play.

Art Heyman and Larry Brown grew up together—Heyman in Oceanside, New York, and Brown in Long Beach. They competed in the playground across the street from the bakery that Brown’s grandfather owned. Both kids were tough and there were fistfights even then, but there was also a mutual respect. The pair decided to play together at North Carolina. They both committed to Frank McGuire but Heyman’s stepdad had a heated disagreement with the coach in the Carolina Inn when he called McGuire’s program a basketball factory. In retaliation the stepdad convinced Heyman to go with the Blue Devils. I guess you could say that this little spat changed the course of college basketball history and led to Duke’s national ascent.

During Heyman’s first year at Duke, Coach Vic Bubas told Bucky Waters, his freshman coach, “Now this is a very tough New York kid. Are you a tough enough Jersey guy to handle this?” Waters did the best he could to harness that talent, intensity, and the chip on Heyman’s shoulder but he was such a beast on the court that he got out of hand several times in freshman games. His intensity might be compared somewhat to Christian Laettner’s, though Laettner restrained himself from violence. Also Heyman actually became physically ill and lost his lunch at times before a game—he was that fired up.

The history-making brawl took place in February 4, 1961 when Heyman was a sophomore on the varsity team. North Carolina had squeaked out a five-point win against Duke earlier in the season, and McGuire was gloating. He’d never forgiven Heyman for backing out of his commitment. Actually the violence began in the first half, though the second half melee is what everyone talks about. Heyman and Moe had squared off. It was reported that Heyman was upset at a Moe elbow that barely sideswiped his nose, but Heyman said later that there was another reason for his anger. Apparently he’d been punched and every time he took a shot, Moe would spit at him. While both officials were pulling them apart, UNC player Dieter Krause hurried to get involved but was cut off at the pass, thus preventing a larger fistfight.

The game was almost over and Duke was ahead when Brown sprinted upcourt and was aggressively fouled by Heyman. Tempers were already at the brink. Brown threw the ball at him, then a left and a right. Heyman struck back but then Donnie Walsh, a UNC sub, came up from behind Heyman and clocked him, knocking him down. The UNC bench cleared and spectators poured onto the court. Surprisingly, Duke teammates did not rush to Heyman’s rescue. Heyman suddenly found himself near midcourt, but when he realized he’d escaped, he turned around and ran right back in. That’s when they really started pummeling him. It was a donnybrook from there that lasted close to ten minutes and required ten police officers to quell. In the end, Heyman claimed he’d been kicked by alligator shoes and had, in turn, slugged McGuire in the groin, but the film doesn’t seem to bear that out. Though Heyman was expelled in the final seconds of the game, Duke won 81-77 with 36 points from him alone.

For years following his graduation, Heyman carried a bubbling resentment against Duke, partly because it took a number of years before they finally retired his jersey. He brushed off any attempts at including him in the Duke family. However, over the years, his anger toward his alma mater apparently cooled a bit. Though not a regular visitor to campus, he returned a few times in recent years. Bucky Waters said he’d last seen Heyman at a reunion for the 1963 team, which won an ACC championship and reached the national semifinals. Waters tried to make him feel welcome and Heyman was affable – quite friendly and open.” The one they called “the ultimate warrior” passed on August 30, 2012. Quite unwittingly he had placed the Duke Blue Devils on the map nationally in the game of basketball and had fueled a rivalry that many call the greatest rivalry in all of college sports.