There was no gray area where Art Heyman was concerned.
Duke basketball fans loved him. Fans at North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest, the ACC and much of the nation saw the prolific scorer and talker as a hard-edged villain.
That was just fine with him, too.
Heyman died Monday night at 71 in Florida after – no doubt – putting up a fight.
In the early 1960s, the fiery, uncompromising Heyman became a lightning rod for emotions in the Triangle.
“I didn’t like them, and they didn’t like me,” Heyman told me during a conversation in the late 1970s.
“Who is ‘them?’ ” I asked.
“All of them,” Heyman said. “Carolina, State, Wake Forest, Davidson – just all of ’em. I didn’t like any of ’em.”
At about 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Heyman was a brash, physically imposing New Yorker who first declared for North Carolina, then switched to Duke and punished the Tar Heels for most of his three varsity seasons.
On his lack of popularity among rival fans, Heyman joked, “I never knew my real name was Heyman. I thought it was ‘Hey Man!’ – like ‘Hey Man, You Stink!’ That’s all I ever heard. But that was the way players in my day preferred it. No quarter given, no quarter taken.”
One of the most famous brawls in ACC history involved Heyman and North Carolina’s Larry Brown. It took place on Feb. 4, 1961 at Duke. Police had to stop the fighting, which included fans and students in addition to the players.
Eventually, Brown, Heyman and North Carolina’s Donnie Walsh were suspended for the rest of the season by the ACC.
All these years later, Heyman is probably more remembered for that fight with Brown than his lasting impact on the conference and the region.
That part of it is unfortunate simply because Heyman, Jeff Mullins and the many other mainstays of Vic Bubas’ Duke teams did a great deal to save and regenerate in-state interest.
When the programs at North Carolina and N.C. State were scaled back after the gambling scandals of the late ’50s and early ’60s, in the state’s two biggest schools and most visible basketball programs went quiet for a while.
It was up to Duke, Wake Forest and Davidson to keep the gyms lively.
Thanks to Heyman, Mullins and the other Blue Devils and to Wake Forest’s Len Chappell and Billy Packer, and Lefty Driesell’s early Davidson teams, the sport’s popularity in North Carolina was maintained.
“Duke got an opening, and we made the most of it,” Heyman said.
Although they weren’t able to win a national championship, the Heyman-led Blue Devils teams rarely were out of the national top 10.
With the exception of Oscar Robertson, Heyman was as versatile as any player of his era. He was an exceptional jumper and was among the most effective offensive rebounders ever. At the same time, he was very capable of handling the ball in open spaces against traps and presses.
But it was Heyman’s relentless competitiveness that made him the player other teams’ fans loved to hate.
Heyman would have loved the tweet sent Tuesday by Christian Laettner: Gods Bball team up in heaven just got a lot better and tougher!! RIP ArtHeyman! #dukelegend