Obituary: Art Heyman / Led Duke basketball to its first Final Four

June 24, 1941 - Aug. 27, 2012

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Art Heyman, a 6-foot-5 scoring force who led Duke University's basketball team to its first Final Four in 1963, winning national player of the year and starring in a central, combative role in the fierce rivalry between Duke and the University of North Carolina, died Monday in Florida. He was 71.

His death was confirmed by Brewer & Sons Funeral Home of Clermont, Fla.

Mr. Heyman was one of the most highly recruited high school players in the nation in his senior year at Oceanside (N.Y.) High School, and he first committed to play for North Carolina. He planned to attend along with a not necessarily friendly playground opponent from his childhood, Larry Brown. But Mr. Heyman and his family had a change of heart at the last minute, and he chose to go to Duke, which had not yet become a basketball power.

Four years later, that had changed.

"As much as any other human being, Art was responsible for Duke University becoming a national power in college basketball," former Duke coach Vic Bubas said in a statement released by the university.

In the three seasons Mr. Heyman played on the varsity -- freshmen were not allowed on the team at the time -- Duke had a 69-14 record and Mr. Heyman averaged 25.1 points and 10.9 rebounds. He made the all-Atlantic Coast Conference team all three years. His senior season, 1962-63, he was named NCAA player of the year by The Sporting News, ACC Player of the Year and most outstanding player of the Final Four, where Duke lost to Loyola of Chicago.

The New York Knicks drafted Mr. Heyman first that spring, and he averaged 15.4 points per game his first year, making the all-rookie team. But his National Basketball Association career did not last long. By 1967, he had moved to the newly formed American Basketball Association, where he helped lead the Pittsburgh Pipers to the league's first championship, in 1968. Starting at guard for the losing team, the New Orleans Buccaneers, was Larry Brown.

By his own account, Mr. Heyman could be difficult to deal with, clashing with coaches, players and eventually his alma mater, which he resented for not retiring his jersey number, No. 25, until 1990.

Mr. Bubas told Sports Illustrated in a feature on Mr. Heyman in February 1961 that he had been working to calm his sophomore star's temper, "and he has improved 100 percent." The magazine said Mr. Heyman's nickname was "the Pest" and described his playing style as "calculated to make points, not friends."

Earlier that month, Mr. Brown and Mr. Heyman were suspended for the season after getting into a fight. Mr. Heyman had fouled Mr. Brown hard while he drove for a layup late in the game. Duke won, 81-77, behind Mr. Heyman's 36 points. The layup, the foul and the fight are preserved on YouTube. (Mr. Heyman admitted that during the fight he also punched North Carolina coach Frank McGuire in the groin.)

The fight is often cited as having helped spark the heated rivalry that has made North Carolina-Duke games some of the most-watched contests on television every year. Not that it was the first time Mr. Heyman and Mr. Brown had come to blows.

"We'd fight on the playground," Mr. Brown -- who went on to coach several NBA teams, including the Knicks, and now coaches Southern Methodist University -- told The Raleigh News and Observer.

The players later maintained a measure of mutual respect, and Mr. Brown praised his old rival in a statement as "still one of the best of all time" and "a big part of my childhood and my life."

Arthur Bruce Heyman was born in New York City on June 24, 1941. At his death, he lived in Groveland, Fla.

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