The day after Vic Bubas became Duke basketball’s head coach in 1959, he hopped aboard a plane to New York City. There he recruited and wooed the man who graduated as Duke’s all-time leading scorer and currently ranks 12th. This man also took the team to its first Final Four.
Monday evening, Art Heyman died at the age of 71 in Florida, but in the mind of Bubas, he will forever hold the legacy of helping catapult the men’s basketball program into relevancy.
“He was just a pioneer in our basketball era when we moved onto the national scene,” Bubas, 85, said. “He was an all-around player who helped put us on a little bit of a larger map for the first time.”
Heyman initially committed to attend North Carolina. Then Duke assistant coach Fred Schabel began recruiting him before Bubas’ arrival. But when Bubas visited New York to speak to Heyman and his parents, he convinced the northerner to take a trip to Durham, which would eventually become his home.
“We were lucky to have hit it off so well,” Bubas said. “I tried to outline for him where I thought we wanted to go as a team, and I appealed to him to be a pioneer in that movement.”
In his three years with the Blue Devils, Heyman averaged 25.1 points per game—a tally that ranks first in Duke history—and 10.9 rebounds per game. The three-time All-American is now one of 13 men’s basketball players who has his jersey retired at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
In his senior season, Heyman led Duke to a 27-3 record and earned National Player of the Year honors. That season was the first in which Duke reached a Final Four, a feat the school has now achieved 15 times.
“You can imagine the kind of excitement that generated and he was right in the middle of everything,” Bubas said. “He was just an outstanding player in so many areas.”
Although Heyman is remembered as an elite scorer and rebounder, Bubas noted that his passing skills were also outstanding.
Beyond his skills, however, Heyman was known for his fiery attitude, which resulted in a famous brawl between him and Tar Heel Larry Brown in 1961. Heyman fouled Brown on a layup, after which the pair shoved each other, resulting in a benches-clearing brawl.
“I don’t want to make any apologies for the fact that he was very intense in his basketball,” Bubas said. “But Art was a clean basketball player. He didn’t back away from anything on the court.”
The tensions between Duke and North Carolina existed well before Heyman’s arrival, but by propelling the Blue Devils into the college basketball’s elite, the pressure mounted even further.
“When your teams get a little bit better, then those rivalries grow,” Bubas said. “When both teams are elevated to teams that are in the top 10 in the nation, and then being so close to each other geographically, plus all the history, the rivalry gets intense.”
After finishing his career at Duke, Heyman was selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft by his hometown New York Knicks. He played professional basketball through 1970.
In his retirement, Heyman opened a tavern in Manhattan. Periodically, Bubas visited New York to stop by the restaurant and catch up with his former player. Together, the two had the chance to talk about how together they helped build a program that is now regularly among the best in the country.
One recruit led to one Final Four, which has since turned Duke into a beacon of basketball.
“That kind of reputation is very important to kids who really want to be good and play against the best competition,” Bubas said. “That’s what you hope for when you’re building a program. I think that’s one of the reasons he came. I know he always told me that he was delighted to be a part of the building of the program to the point that other kids wanted to come and be a part of it.”