That’s not to say that Duke and North Carolina didn’t meet on the hardwood long before the infamous 1961 brawl in Cameron Indoor Stadium. There was actually a Duke-Carolina rivalry before there was a Duke. When the two schools first met in 1920, the Durham-based school was known as Trinity College.
For more than 40 years after that inaugural game, the two Tobacco Road neighbors dueled annually in a variety of sports. But in the first half of the 20th Century, the Duke-Carolina rivalry was primarily a football duel. The annual matchups between Wallace Wade and Carl Snavely or between Bill Murray and Jim Tatum far overshadowed anything happening on the basketball court.
That changed in 1961.
The catalyst was a pugnacious forward from Long Island, N.Y., named Art Heyman.
Originally, Heyman was supposed to ride Frank McGuire’s Underground Railroad from Rockville Center to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heel coach had won the national championship in 1957 with a team of New York City products. After the departure of the likes of Lennie Rosenbluth and Pete Brennan, the fiery Irish coach had restocked his roster with the likes of New Yorkers Doug Moe and York Larese.
The Jewish star, regarded as the nation’s finest prep prospect, committed to the Tar Heels, where he was slated to room with his Long Island playground rival, a young Jewish guard named Larry Brown.
Heyman did make a perfunctory recruiting visit to Duke in the spring of 1959, but that was after head coach Hal Bradley had left Duke for Texas and before athletic director Eddie Cameron had named a replacement. Several Duke players escorted Heyman around campus, but they hardly bonded with the brash New Yorker. In fact, Heyman teased his hosts with boasts about what he was going to do to them under the boards.
A week after Heyman committed to North Carolina, Cameron finally named N.C. State assistant coach Vic Bubas to take over the Blue Devil program. Moments after introducing the young Indiana product to the local media, Cameron whispered into Bubas’ ear: “Don’t you think it’s time you go recruiting?”
It was awfully late in the recruiting season, but few men were as knowledgeable about the recruiting landscape as the new Duke coach. In his years as Everett Case’s top assistant coach, he had landed the likes of Ron Shavlik, Lou Pucillo, John Ritchter and Jon Speaks. Bubas knew something that gave him hope of pulling off a miracle. He had heard that Heyman’s stepfather harbored a deep dislike for McGuire. Bubas continued to pursue Heyman, even after his target signed a formal letter-of-intent with the Tar Heels.
His persistence paid off when Bill Heyman and McGuire got into a shouting match one night at the Carolina Inn – an argument that nearly came to fisticuffs.
“I had to step in between them,” Heyman said. “My stepfather called Carolina a basketball factory and McGuire didn’t like that. They were about to start swinging at each other.”
Under the rules then in place, Heyman’s letter-of-intent did not become binding until July 1 and as that date approached, Bubas continued to recruit the Long Island star ... or more precisely, he recruited his parents.
“He charmed my mother and stepfather,” Heyman said. “They made me go to Duke. All my friends from New York were at Carolina. If Duke hadn’t picked me up at the airport, I would have gone down the road and started school there.”
Not surprisingly, Heyman’s late change of heart infuriated McGuire and the Tar Heel faithful.
“Frank hated Duke and he hated the Duke kids,” Heyman said. “He hated the way the kids over there used to mimic him. They’d wear suits and slick back their hair and pull on their ties and their cuffs like he always did ... it drove him nuts.”
The depth of McGuire’s anger did not become clear until the Duke and UNC freshmen teams met early in the winter of 1960. During that era, freshmen could not play varsity ball, so Heyman’s first exposure to the Tar Heels came in a freshman game that was played in Siler City, N.C., a small town about 20 minutes southwest of Chapel Hill.
Before the game, first-year Duke freshman coach Bucky Waters tried to warn the hot-headed Heyman about what he was going to face.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got to prepare yourself for anything. If you explode, you’ll make them happy,’ ” Waters said. “Then the game started and they began with this line of rhetoric, right in front of us, ‘Jew! Christ-killer!’ It was vicious. I called time out and got real close to Art and said, ‘This is what we’ve been expecting. You can fight them, but if you punch back, expect to hear the same thing every night.’ I took two time outs back to back so I could keep talking. I told him, ‘Play hard and kick their butts, then at the end of the game, you can point to the scoreboard as you walk off.’
“Well, Art was incredible and we won the game. Or we were about to win it when [UNC freshman Dieter] Krause cold-cocks Art. Just a cheap shot, just a punch from out of nowhere. I lost it. I was so convinced that it was all premeditated that I had [UNC freshman coach Kenny Rosemond] by the lapels and I was bouncing him off the scorer’s table. I kept pushing him into the [scoreboard controls] and the scoreboard was going nuts. Here I work so hard to convince Art to keep his cool, then I lost mine.”
The Siler City scuffle was just a preview of what was to come.
While Heyman was leading the Duke freshmen to a 10-5 record (including three victories over UNC), Bubas was stoking the fires of the rivalry in the 1960 ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels had trounced the Blue Devils three times during the 1960 regular season – all by 22 or more points. But in the ACC Tournament semifinals, Bubas’ junior-dominated team stunned top-seeded UNC 71-69. The tournament victory prevented one of McGuire’s best teams from playing in the NCAA Tournament and rubbed salt into the festering Heyman wound.
Worse was to come.
Bubas returned all five starters from the team that had upset North Carolina, then shocked Wake Forest to win the 1960 ACC title. That group – many of the same players Heyman taunted during his recruiting visit in the spring of 1959 – had gone on to beat Princeton and St. Joseph’s in the NCAA Tournament, before losing the East Regional title game to NYU.
But from day one, there was no question as to Duke’s new star – it wasn’t center Doug Kistler, the 1960 ACC Tournament MVP, and it wasn’t forward Carroll Youngkin, who had poured in 30 points in the upset of UNC. It was Heyman, who simply amazed onlookers with his power and his determination. The bullish 6-5 forward wasn’t the greatest shooter, but he was an unstoppable driver and a dynamo on the boards.
“He’s just like a king in a checker game,” Bubas told reporters. “I can move him anywhere and he gets the job done.”
Heyman demonstrated the range of his skills in his second game, when scored 27 points and added 12 rebounds and seven assists in a victory over Penn State. He had 23 points and 21 rebounds in a victory at Georgia Tech; 34 points and 11 rebounds against Florida; 29 points and 10 rebounds against Marquette in the Dixie Classic semifinals.
The young star was averaging 23.9 points and 11 rebounds as 9-0 Duke went into the Dixie Classic title game against North Carolina.
The 1960-61 Tar Heels, with talented point guard Larry Brown joining seniors Moe and Larese in the starting lineup, had showed their strength after a slow start. UNC lost to Kentucky in Greensboro and started a tough road trip with a loss at powerful Kansas State. But UNC followed that stumble by beating Kansas and Creighton on the road trip, then returned to Tobacco Road and swept into the title game of the last Dixie Classic, routing Maryland and Villanova to earn the matchup with Duke.
Heyman opened that game by abusing UNC for 11 points in a little more than five minutes. At that point, McGuire called time out and switched All-American Doug Moe onto the Blue Devil star. Moe, one of the college game’s best defenders, limited Heyman to five points in the game’s final 25 minutes and UNC was able to pull out a 76-71 victory.
That failure gnawed at the brilliant young player. Heyman reacted by ripping a picture of Moe out of the Durham newspaper and pasting it on his dorm wall.
Heyman continued to think about Moe as Duke resumed its triumphant march after the loss to Carolina. The Blue Devils reeled off six more wins in a row to reach the rematch with Carolina at 15-1 – and an all-time best national ranking of No. 4 in the Associated Press poll. The Tar Heels arrived in Durham with a 14-2 record and a No. 5 national ranking. The UPI (the 1961 equivalent to the modern USA Today Coaches’ Poll) had UNC at No. 4 and Duke at No. 5.
It was obvious that the Saturday night of Feb. 4, 1961 would be a pivotal moment in the history of Tobacco Road basketball. No one could have guessed how pivotal it would be.
An ice storm swept the state on the night before the game, which may have contributed to the huge regional TV audience that tuned in to see the game. It was the first (but far from the last) time that the two rivals would both be ranked in the top five when they met.
This night would start ugly and end ugly. In the freshman game, which preceded the varsity contest, future star Jeff Mullins helped Duke’s Blue Imps rout the Tar Babies 79-52. But the score didn’t tell the story of a violent game, marked by a number of fights. UNC actually ended the contest with just three players on the floor after five players fouled out and three were ejected for fighting.
The varsity contest almost turned into a brawl in the first half as Heyman and Moe squared off. It was reported that Heyman was upset at a Moe elbow that nearly hit his nose, but Heyman said there was another reason for his anger.
“He spit on me,” the former Duke star said. “Every time I took a shot, he spit on me. I told him I was not going to take that.”
While Moe and Heyman were poised on the brink of violence, and both officials were engaged pulling them apart, Dieter Krause – who had assaulted Heyman a year earlier in Siler City – jumped off the UNC bench and started toward the two angry antagonists. Before he could get there, Krause was confronted by Duke’s Doug Kistler and suddenly another pair of players appeared to be on the verge of violence. The jam-packed Indoor Stadium was descending into pandemonium when Blue Devil trainer Jim Cunningham came off the bench and pushed Krause out of Kistler’s face. That set off McGuire, who didn’t know that Cunningham and Krause had attended the same high school in Norfolk, Va., and were old friends.
Officials Jim Mills and Charlie Eckman finally got the situation under control and the game continued with the two teams trading the lead throughout the first half. Heyman was on fire, hitting nine of his first 11 shots and getting Moe in foul trouble. But the Tar Heels led 35-34 at the half when things again got ugly.
At that time, players from both teams left the court by the same narrow passage between the tightly packed fans. UNC cheerleader Albert Roper was standing by the entrance of the passage, slapping the Tar Heel players on the butt as they left the court. He mistakenly did the same to Heyman, who reacted by turning and shoving Roper to the floor. That should have been the end to it, but Durham lawyer Blackwell Brogden, a UNC alum, saw the encounter and Monday morning he filed assault charges against Heyman. Although Roper refused to testify and the case was thrown out of court after 10 minutes, the entire ludicrous situation contributed to the hysteria that would ensue in the wake of what happened in the game’s closing minutes.
North Carolina nursed a narrow lead throughout the second half, but with UNC up 73-70 and three minutes to play, Duke guard Johnny Frye hit a free throw and Heyman scored five straight points to give Duke a 76-73 lead. Two free throws by Heyman with 15 seconds left stretched that advantage to 80-75.
That’s when the tension that had been building ever since Heyman had reneged on his commitment to UNC exploded into the ugliest scene in ACC history.
The trouble began when Brown took the inbounds pass after Heyman’s free throws and raced toward the basket. The Duke star grabbed Brown by the shoulders as he went up for the shot, a hard – and unnecessary – foul. Brown reacted by throwing the ball at Heyman, then he threw a punch at his former friend from Long Island. Heyman responded with a flailing blow of his own. At that point, UNC reserve Donnie Walsh, the future NBA executive, raced off the Tar Heel bench and slugged Heyman from behind, knocking him down. Walsh turned and ran away after his cheap shot. Heyman got up and tried to follow, but Brown and several other UNC players piled on the Duke star and began pummeling him. Fans began to pour out of the stands, throwing punches at everyone in sight – even each other!
Heyman later claimed that he was kicked by a pair of alligator shoes – supposedly those worn by McGuire, but films of the fight show McGuire briefly trying to restrain his players, then walking away from the battle, adjusting his cuffs. Oddly, not a single Duke player rallied to Heyman’s defense.
The melee continued for more than 10 minutes as 10 Durham policemen struggled to stop the violence. When order was finally restored, Heyman was ejected for fighting, although his foul of Brown was already his fifth foul. Amazingly, Brown was not ejected and was allowed to stay in the game to shoot his two free throws. Duke added a free throw in the final seconds to finish with an 81-77 victory.
Heyman finished with 36 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the floor and 14-of-17 from the foul line.
“Duke won the game, but lost the fight,” Durham sports editor Jack Horner wrote.
Horner was just about the only writer at the game who did not write that Heyman threw the first punch. Even referee Charlie Eckman, who claimed that he gallantly tried to break up the fight, reported that Heyman had punched first. Bubas, incensed by the accusations, took the unusual step of scheduling a press conference for the next Wednesday, where Bubas re-ran the film footage of the fight for more than 40 reporters, proving that Brown had in fact thrown the first punch and that the heroic Eckman had spent the entire fight hiding behind a basket support.
Bob Weaver, the ACC commissioner, saw the same film and in his report, issued on Valentine’s Day, acknowledged that Brown was guilty of starting the fight and that Walsh’s “hit-and-run tactics” (as Weaver termed it) was what turned the brief scuffle into a major brawl. However, he also blamed Heyman for turning to pursue Walsh.
“I do not hold Heyman altogether responsible for striking Brown, for this was a retaliatory action and was almost instinctive,” Weaver stated in his report. “However, he must he held responsible for the subsequent attack on Walsh, who had indicated by retreating that he had withdrawn from the fray.”
Weaver, who had been battling to quash on-court violence in the league (most of it involving McGuire’s Tar Heels), handed down the most severe punishment ever delivered for on-the-court misbehavior, suspending Heyman, Brown and Walsh for the remainder of the ACC regular season.
For Carolina, that meant that Brown and Walsh would not play again that season. McGuire had convinced the school to withdraw from the ACC Tournament after learning that the Heels would be on NCAA probation for his recruiting violations. It proved to be his parting shot at his old rival Case, who had refused to take similar action during N.C. State’s four-year probation.
While Dean Smith insisted that the action had nothing to do with N.C. State, he admitted that it was perceived that way at the time.
“Frank and I went over for the first [ACC Tournament] game in 1961 and sat on the front row,” he said. “We had detectives around us, like they were afraid somebody would shoot us.”
The loss of Heyman proved devastating to Duke’s title chances. The powerful sophomore got to play in non-conference wins over Navy and Seton Hall, but with him on the sideline, Duke lost four of its final six conference games and finished third in the ACC regular season standings.
UNC claimed the regular season title with an overtime victory over Duke in the rematch in Chapel Hill. Despite some hysterical talk from McGuire, who predicted the game would be a “bloodbath” and suggested the governor call out the National Guard, the tight contest, played under intense security, was without incident.
After the 1961 brawl in Durham, the Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry would never again be overshadowed by football. Heyman helped carry Bubas’ program to the national heights, including the school’s first Final Four appearance in 1963. North Carolina, embarrassed by nine losses in the next 11 meetings with Duke, responded by promoting McGuire assistant Dean Smith to the head coaching job. He would build a powerhouse program in Chapel Hill that was unmatched until Mike Krzyzewski built a similar dynasty at Duke.
Over the next half-century, the Duke-Carolina rivalry would blossom into college basketball’s showcase game. At least one or the other was always a national contender – often both in the same year (as for instance this season).
And it all started with Art Heyman and the 1961 brawl.