I attended my first Duke-North Carolina game in 1960.
That was the semifinals of the ACC Tournament in Raleigh’s Reynolds Coliseum.
It was a great introduction to the best rivalry in all of sports. UNC was a powerhouse – so good that ACC player of the year Lee Shaffer was the third best player on his own team (behind Doug Moe, the best all-around player in the ACC in 1960, and York Larese, the league’s best shooter). Duke was kind of up-and-down in its first season under young coach Vic Bubas -- mostly down against UNC, losing three meetings by 22, 26 and 25 points.
But the Devils, getting a splendid game from forward Carroll Youngkin and from center Doug Kistler (who became my high school coach) jumped to an early lead in the Tar Heels in Raleigh and grimly held on for a 71-69 victory. One night later, Duke beat Wake Forest with Len Chappell and a balding sophomore guard named Billy Packer, to win the school’s first ACC championship.
As significant as that 1960 tournament matchup is in the rivalry, I think the real turning point in the Duke-Carolina saga occurred a year later.
The Feb. 4, 1961 matchup at Duke Indoor Stadium marked the moment when Duke-Carolina became a great basketball rivalry. Oh, there had been plenty of significant games between the two schools before that night, but I think most fans and the media still regarded the football rivalry as more significant.
That changed on Feb. 4, 1961.
For one thing, it was the first time the two teams ever met with both ranked in the top five – No. 4 Duke vs. N0. 5 UNC (in the coaches poll, it was reversed – No. 5 Duke vs. No. 4 UNC). For another game, the game featured volatile sophomore Art Heyman, a celebrated prep star from Long Island who had signed a letter-of-intent with North Carolina, but after a fight between UNC coach Frank McGuire and Heyman’s stepfather, re-opened his recruitment.
Bubas swooped in and stole Heyman from the Heels.
McGuire never forgave him.
Art Heyman became the first hated Duke basketball player. And nothing that Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, J.J. Redick or Grayson Allen ever endured was close to the abuse that Heyman faced … most (but not all) spewing from the program that he spurned and its fan base.
In his first freshman game with UNC (freshmen could not play varsity ball in those days), Heyman was subjected to a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse. He ignored it and was leading the Blue Imps to a lopsided victory over the Tar Babies (yes, that was the name given to UNC freshman teams) when Heyman was cold-cocked by UNC’s Dieter Krause, precipitating a brawl that ended up with Duke freshman coach Bucky Waters pounding UNC coach Kenny Rosemond into the scorer’s table.
That was just the prelude to the 1961 matchup in Durham.
There was an ugly atmosphere that night. It started in the freshman preliminary game, when there was a brawl that left UNC with just three players available for the final minute of Duke’s lopsided win. There was a near-brawl in the first half of the varsity game – precipitated (Heyman claims) when Moe kept spitting on him. Krause, who was buried at the end of the UNC bench, rushed onto the floor as Heyman and Moe squared off. That’s what almost sparked the brawl.
Then there was the incident as the two teams left the court for halftime – through the same exit in those days. A male UNC cheerleader was slapping the Tar Heel players on the butt as they passed him. He also swatted Heyman in the butt –and the Duke star responded by turning and shoving the kid to the floor. Upstairs, a UNC fan saw the incident and filed assault charges against Heyman (the case was thrown out of court the next week).
But that was all just setup for the final seconds. Heyman, completing a magnificent performance (36 points on 11-13 shooting against the best defender in the ACC, Moe) had Duke in position to claim the win when Larry Brown, who was once slated to be Heyman’s roommate in Chapel Hill, raced for a meaningless layup.
Heyman foolishly grabbed him.
Let’s get this straight – he didn’t hit Brown or undercut him or throw him to the ground and in any way hurt or endanger him. The 6-5 Heyman wrapped both arms around Brown and hugged him, holding him upright.
Brown responded by throwing the basketball in Heyman’s face. Then he threw a punch that landed on Heyman’s face. Before Heyman could respond, Donnie Walsh (a future NBA executive) jumped off the UNC bench and slugged Heyman from behind.
From that point, it devolved into the wildest brawl in ACC history. Heyman threw a punch at Brown then turned to chase Walsh, who delivered his dastardly blow, then turned and sprinted away like a coward. Heyman’s chase was impeded by first dozens and then hundreds of students, who poured onto the floor and began fighting each other. It took more than 10 minutes to clear the floor and play out the finals seconds of the game (an 81-77 Duke win).
The officials, in their game report, blamed Heyman for starting the fight. Bubas was so outraged by that report that he had his game-film developed in record time and convened an extraordinary press conference to show reporters that Heyman was the victim, not the instigator.
Commissioner Bob James, who had been struggling to crack down on brawling at ACC games (most of it precipitated by McGuire’s teams), came down hard on everybody involved – Heyman, Brown and Walsh were all suspended for the remainder of the ACC season.
In my mind, that game launched Duke-UNC basketball toward the stratosphere of sports rivalries. It didn’t happen overnight – even after that memorable night – but the sustained excellence of the two programs has made Duke-Carolina the greatest rivalry in college basketball.
I sometimes quibble with the Duke SID people over one remarkable stat. They are fond of pointing out that either Duke or UNC have been ranked in every matchup since Feb. 27, 1960 – a week the ’60 Tar Heels temporarily dropped out of the AP poll. Beating Duke by 25 in Durham was enough to lift UNC back to No. 16 in time for the next meeting six days later in Raleigh. One or the other has been ranked for every meeting since.
That’s correct as far as it goes.
But the AP poll – the writers’ poll – was not the only poll. The rival United Press International polled the coaches’ and that poll was every bit as authoritative as the writers’ rankings.
And North Carolina never dropped out of the UPI coaches’ poll that season. The Tar Heels were No. 12 the night they faced Duke in Durham.
That means that the last time neither school was ranked was Feb. 25, 1955 – that’s 62 years and 157 straight meetings in which one or the other (but usually both) are ranked. Can anybody cite another rivalry that’s even close to that number when it comes to national relevance?
The two programs have remarkably similar accomplishments – both have five NCAA titles; UNC had 19 Final Fours to 16 for Duke; Duke has 19 ACC championships to 18 for UNC; they are third and fourth in all-time wins – second and third when it comes to NCAA Tournament wins.
ESPN recently ran a story mentioning that over the last 96 Duke-Carolina games, both teams are 48-48 and both teams have scored EXACTLY 7,437 points in that span.
Of course, Barry Jacobs pointed out Wednesday that dominance in the rivalry does swing back in forth. It all depends on what time frame you are going to choose. For instance, over the entire history of the rivalry, UNC has a substantial 134-108 edge.
But look at just this century and Duke has the edge – 25-13.
Coach K is 43-39 vs. UNC.
Coach K is 16-10 against Roy Williams at UNC (he was 4-1 vs. Roy when Williams was at Kansas, so 20-11 overall).
Since UNC swept Duke in 2009, Duke has pretty much dominated the series, winning 11 of 15 matchups this decade. Barry pointed out that Duke has a much better record in recent years in the first matchup of the year than in the second … and also a slightly better record against UNC in the Smith Center than in Cameron.
All in all, a wonderful rivalry.
Now for the elephant in the room.
There was a time when Duke-Carolina was thought to represent the best in college sports.
Duke was perceived as the great private institution, playing basketball at a high level while maintaining the highest academic standards. UNC was the “public ivy” maintaining similarly high standards at one of the nation’s best public schools.
And after the 1961 ugliness, the rivalry was conducted on a very collegial level. Duke and Carolina recruited the same players; those players often scrimmaged against one another; players from both schools hung out at the same Durham barber shop; and the coaches – no matter their private doubts and frustrations – almost always maintained a façade of respect and good fellowship for their rival.
That was before we found out that North Carolina was running the longest and most widespread academic sham in NCAA history. UNC AD Bubba Cunningham acknowledged earlier this week that the Heels cheated – he’s not denying the crime, only that the NCAA rules don’t allow that organization to punish them for it.
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it has changed my perception of the rivalry. I can’t look back on the two great games in 2005 (one thriller won by Duke, one won by UNC) without thinking that most of the stars for the Heels that year where hiding in fraudulent classes – indeed, Rashad McCants has bragged that he NEVER went to class that semester.
It will be interesting to see if the NCAA has the power to punish UNC for its cheating ways or whether the Heels can get away with it.
But the scandal has had another tangible impact on the rivalry – the two programs, which used to be mirror images of each other, are now on very different paths. Duke has relied very heavily on one-and-done talent since 2011, while UNC has not been landing the kind of guys who go one-and-done – and when they do (in the case of Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo), those kids stay in Chapel Hill longer than expected.
Roy Williams said earlier this week that he’d like to recruit like K – but can’t, because of the scandal and the possibility of NCAA punishment.
“It’s not by design,” he said. “All the guys they’ve got, we tried to recruit also.
“There is no question about that.”
He pointed out that he did get one-and-done talent early in his tenure at UNC. Marvin Williams in 2005 and Brandon Wright in 2007 were both one-and-done players.
“We’ve been in a time period here where it’s been difficult to get the top 10, top 20 recruit,” Williams explained. “I’m just going to hazard a guess – I have seen something one of my assistants made up – our first 10 years here, we recruited 26 McDonald’s All-Americans and the last three years, we’ve recruited one – Tony Bradley.
“Justin [Jackson], Joel [Berry] and Theo [Pinson], they all committed to us as juniors and then when the junk started, there has been a lot of negative recruiting, there have been a lot of questions asked, It’s been harder for us to get those kinds of kids.
“I’m not against them. We’ve had Marvin Williams and Brandon Wright. I’d love to have those guys right now. It’s been harder for us to get past the negative recruiting, harder to get some families past the stuff that’s been going on.”
UNC had remained competitive with players recruited before the scandal exploded with the release of the school’s own Wainstein Report. But Williams has also benefited because his top players have stayed beyond their peers.
For instance, senior forward Isaiah Hicks was rated the nation’s No. 14 prospect in 2013 (according to the RSCI, which averages recruiting rankings). Almost every other top 25 player from that class – including No. 16 Joel Embid (one-and-done), No. 24 Tyler Ennis (one-and-done) and No. 25 Cat Barber (three-and-done) are already in the NBA.
In the junior class, No. 9 ranked Justin Jackson is the highest-rated player in the class that’s still in school. No. 15 Theo Pinson is the second-highest.
So Williams has the benefit of an experienced team.
“There is more than one way to skin a cat,” the UNC coach said. “I remember a long time ago, we played George Mason in the 2006 NCAA Tournament and they had four fifth-year seniors and we had three freshmen in the starting lineup and they beat us
“There are different ways, but this is not by design. I saw Jayson Tatum play many times. I saw Harry Giles play many, many times. It’s just the way it has happened.”
That’s Krzyzewski’s explanation too.
“It’s not like we have an option where we think everybody is going to go one and done,” he said. “But if they’re good enough, they go. Some guys stay and some guys go.”
Indeed, players make different choices. After the 2015 national title, freshman point guard Tyus Jones was projected as a late first-round pick. He decided to go – and as expected, he was picked in the first round. A year later, sophomore Grayson Allen was projected to go late in the first round. He elected to stay for his junior year …. although freshman teammate Brandon Ingram did go pro – Duke’s seventh one-and-done since 2011 – and was picked No. 2 in the draft by the Lakers.
K doesn’t regret his recruiting decisions and he doesn’t think any of his ACC rivals would mind having to deal with one-and-done issues.
“I think any program in our conference, if they had an opportunity to get a youngster who was given those accolades and was perceived to be a one-and-done, people, would go after that guy,” he said. “Nobody is going to pass over talent. We are not and I do not think they will.”
Despite the difference in recruiting approaches, Krzyzewski thinks the rivalry is as good as it’s ever been, thanks to the historical foundation it rests upon.
“Their program and our program have pretty much stood the test of time,” Coach K said.
UNC might have to deal with some difficult times if their battle with the NCAA goes badly for them. They may even lose some of that glorious history that makes the Heels one of the nation’s blueblood programs.
But for right now, Duke-Carolina is still what it has been since early February, 1961 – the best rivalry in all of college basketball, for sure … and in all arguably in all sports.