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Sports Illustrated’s Top Ten Duke-UNC Classics

Some quibbles but not too bad.

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Duke v North Carolina
Austin Rivers gets ready to launch the shot that will live forever in Duke basketball lore.

Sports Illustrated has posted their Top Ten Duke-UNC games of all time and while it’s pretty good there are a few tweaks we might make.

First of all, who could make this list and leave off the foundational game? We’ve seen pictures of 1940s football with UNC fans outside of what is now Wallace Wade Stadium with signs wishing Duke well in its bowl game. Can you imagine?

Art Heyman put a stop to that.

Originally planning to go to UNC like so many New Yorkers to play for Frank McGuire, Heyman’s father (or stepfather, we can’t recall) couldn’t stand McGuire, so he ended up at Duke instead.

This infuriated the thin-skinned McGuire and led to immense tension between the programs. No more friendly signs as in the 1940s, and never again for that matter.

In the 1961 game, UNC’s Larry Brown went in for a layup and was fouled by Heyman. Brown took exception and swung at his old friend. Heyman being Heyman, he wasn’t having and swung back and a major brawl ensued that laid the groundwork for every Duke-UNC game that followed, including the one we’ll see on Wednesday.

Heyman actually punched McGuire in the testicles. He saw him years later and McGuire said “it still hurts Artie.”

Heyman, naturally, if you understand Heyman, told this story gleefully.

You can’t leave this out of a Top Ten list. It’s like leaving the attack on Fort Sumter out of Civil War history.

We’d probably put the Robbie West game on the list too. Duke was so far down in the early 70s that a win over #3 UNC seemed impossible. West was one of two guys that recruiting guru Howard Garfinkel said he was wrong about. He thought that he was going to be great and he wasn’t. But he was on that occasion and the 1972 upset is still treasured by Duke fans.

We might also list the 17 point comeback when Elton Brand was returning from his foot injury but we do understand that this was a list with wins from both sides and you can’t have it be all Duke.

There is one significant error here though. The columnist, Tristain Young, says this about the 1989 ACC Tournament game between the rivals: “This was the year of the infamous ‘J.R. Can’t Read’ sign, which then prompted Dean Smith to tell the media Reid’s SAT scores were higher than Danny Ferry’s and Christian Laettner’s.”

That’s not actually what he said. What he actually said was that the combined SAT scores of Scott Williams and JR Reid were higher than the combined SAT scores of Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner.

It was a clever way of conceding the point by obscuring it: Reid’s scores may not have been that high but he wasn’t comparing them directly.

It was a classic Dean Smith cheap shot. He was fundamentally a decent, kind man, but his competitive urges at time brought out the worst in him. The sign clearly and understandably offended him. He sought to defend his player - an understandable impulse - but couldn't deny the charge. So he hid it in a larger number.

It’s forgotten now but even then people understood that UNC was cutting corners academically. One player was admitted with a 400 SAT and around the same time, Pat Kennedy said that UNC was starting five academic exceptions.

Anyway, it’s a fun article. See what you think. We think that without question, the greatest gutting in the history of the rivalry was Austin Rivers’ legendary shot over UNC’s Tyler Zeller.

We can still see him moving back and forth with Zeller trying to keep him from driving but wary of his three.

Rivers rocked him back and forth until he had the advantage and drilled a three pointer that dropped through the net as time expired.

It may be a while before anyone tops that level of clutch play.

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