We often like to remind people that Duke Basketball started before Mike Krzyzewski took the job in 1980. He put Duke in a different orbit, but the truth is that Duke made the Final Four three times in the 1960’s, once in the 1970’s and just missed in 1980 and even in the Southern Conference, Duke had some great teams.
Vic Bubas took the job in 1959 and almost immediately turned things around. And it wasn’t too long before Art Heyman emerged as the best player at Duke since Dick Groat and one of the best in the country in the early 1960’s.
This article from the Sports Illustrated Vault talks about Heyman’s emergence at Duke. It puts him in the context of fellow mid-sized players like Bill Bradley, Rod Thorn, Ron Bonham and Cotton Nash, who just passed away.
There are hints of future things here. For one, the notion of basketball as something moving past big men to what we today call positionless, and second, a looming giant who would arrive soon in Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), who would show up and make the basketball world tremble.
Our version of that may be Victor Wembanyama, who will soon join the San Antonio Spurs and when he does, like Kareem, he may redefine what a big man is.
And then there’s Heyman telling people he doesn’t know why he’s playing for free at Duke when he could be getting paid somewhere else, an argument that players, coaches and fans alike would recognize today.
There is a lot to gain from reading contemporary accounts of older players and for Duke fans, this is a real gem.
We’ll close with one more observation. Check out this passage about the legendary Duke-UNC fight in 1961:
“Brown looked around, and one look was all that he needed. He saw Heyman and he swung, a right and a left, and both landed. So did another North Carolina player, on Arthur’s back, and the Duke sophomore went down under a growing pile of bodies. There was a great deal of commotion for a while, and then, suddenly, the pile erupted. Out of the middle came Heyman, and this time he went after North Carolina. It was glorious.“
This is precisely the way multiple people have explained that game, and Heyman’s eruption. You’re not supposed to like fighting and we don’t, but after you hear the term erupted enough times, you kind of wish you had seen it.