If North Carolinians share a religion, it’s college basketball. Jews have been part of the game in North Carolina since Leo Stein of Wilmington donned a uniform on UNC’s first team in 1911. One hundred ten years later Jon Scheyer has been anointed the forthcoming head coach of Duke.
Ethnic pride is one thing, but fandom is another. That test came to its head in 1961 when the Duke Blue Devils took on the Carolina Tar Heels. The game featured two New York Jews, forward Art Heyman of Duke and guard Larry Brown of UNC. Sports historians point to that confrontation when explaining the ferocity of the Duke-UNC rivalry.
Duke did not appear on the basketball map until 1959 when Vic Bubas was named head coach. The Tar Heels had enjoyed success under legendary coach Frank McGuire whose New York pipeline had brought Lenny Rosenbluth from the Bronx. In 1957 Rosenbluth led UNC to an undefeated season and NCAA championship while winning national MVP honors. Next, McGuire signed the nation’s top recruit, Art Heyman of Long Island. On his way to Chapel Hill, Coach Bubas intercepted him at the airport, convinced him to decommit, and took him to the Duke campus. In 1960, after being held to 11 points in a loss to UNC for the Dixie Classic title, Heyman, a combative player, was ready for revenge when the Devils and Heels met on February 14, 1961. Both teams were ranked in the top five. Heyman accused his UNC defender of spitting on him, and then pushed a Carolina cheerleader as he headed to the halftime locker room. With 15 seconds left, and Duke leading 80-75, Heyman fouled UNC guard Larry Brown, a fellow Long Islander and his erstwhile friend. The two Jewish boys went at each other, fists flying. Fans rushed the court, and a brawl erupted. Heyman claimed Coach McGuire kicked him, but later admitted that he had punched him in the groin. “Duke won the game, but lost the fight,” the Durham Morning Herald reported. The basketball rivalry was born.
Heyman would lead Duke to the Final Four in 1963, winning national MVP honors, and was the first pick in the NBA draft, playing eight years of professional ball. Larry Brown would later win an Olympic Gold Medal and become a Hall of Fame coach.
When the Talmud decreed, “All of Israel are responsible for each other,” apparently it didn’t have Duke and Carolina basketball in mind.