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Art Heyman’s Importance To Duke Basketball

Art Heyman is arguably the most important Duke Blue Devil of all time.

New York Knicks
 USA - 1970: Art Heyman #4 of the New York Knicks poses for a 1970 photo. 
Photo by NBA Photo Library/NBAE via Getty Images

When you look at the history of Duke basketball, a lot of people tend to stop in 1980. That’s when Mike Krzyzewski took over the Duke program and eventually led it to such heights that just a few days ago, KentuckySportsReport.com had a story up about the Paolo Banchero commitment that was parenthetically subtitled “ARE YOU KIDDING ME” and then referred to the “stupid Brotherhood.” It’s an odd compliment, but make no mistake: it is a compliment nonetheless.

There was a lot of Duke Basketball prior to 1980 though. Dick Groat had a phenomenal career in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s and Duke has been a national power since 1960 with the exception of a dip in the early ‘70s, early ‘80s and 1994-95.

The foundational figures for Duke’s rise are Vic Bubas, who brought a potent offensive style and who also revolutionized recruiting, and his first big recruit, Art Heyman.

There’s not much video of Heyman so we can’t see much of his style but you can get a sense of it from these SI vault articles and also a pretty vivid portrayal of his personality. He seems a bit like Theodore Roosevelt who sought frantic stimulation to ward off depression.

And here’s one more, an obituary from legendary columnist George Vecsey, who knew Heyman from high school and captures him in all his erratic glory and humanity. Make sure to check out the poker story.

He was a much-loved figure at Duke, fundamentally a sweet big kid off the court although not nearly as beloved around the ACC, least of all Chapel Hill.

He’s an archetype at Duke, a volcanic figure with great strengths and weaknesses. It’s fascinating to imagine Krzyzewski, a masterful psychologist, coaching him.