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The beginnings of the modern Duke/North Carolina rivalry

April 26, 2013


Most of the information I have on the Duke/UNC rivalry that happened in the early days I got from this book.  A much-recommended read for any basketball fan *photo courtesy of Frank Palmer

First of all, here’s to hoping that these teams stay in the same conference especially with the conference switcharoos going on in this recent era.  Like Ohio State and Michigan or Auburn and Alabama in football, these teams always need to play each other and be in the same conference.

Duke and North Carolina have been playing basketball against each other since January 24, 1920.  They have played at least twice a year since.  In the first 33 years of this rivalry they played in the Southern Conference.  The Southern Conference consisted of Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, George Washington, Maryland, Richmond, Virginia Military, Virginia Tech, Washington and Lee, West Virginia, Clemson, Davidson, Furman, South Carolina, and the Citadel.  That’s right, 16 teams! Not even the Big East had that many.  That’s not even the worst part.  The Southern Conference at one point had as many as 28 teams!  Holy hell!  Naturally, there was no equality to scheduling and team strength.

In fact, when 7 of those teams met in May of 1953 to discuss seceding and setting up their own league, it was because of football.  Those schools saw forming a new conference as a source of increased revenue.  Two other factors contributed to the succession, first the Southern Conference was divided on the issue of freshmen teams (remember this was the era where freshmen played on the JV team and didn’t move up to varsity until their sophomore season).  There had also been a 1950 vote by the conference to deny Clemson and Maryland bowl bids that year.  They both ended up going anyway.

With these factors as a backdrop, on May 8, 1953 Clemson, Duke, Maryland, NC State, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wake Forest formed what would become the Atlantic Coast Conference.  They would soon be joined by independent Virginia.


the ACC formed in 1953 *photo courtesy of Gannett

The four teams that were located within a 25-mile isosceles triangle of each other were in their own up-and-down neighborhood rivalry.  Those teams would be Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest.  They were called the Big Four.  In the early 1950’s, NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest had some success and superstars.  NC State had the most success as Head Coach Everett Case had won 6 consecutive Southern Conference titles from the time he started in 1946.  Wake Forest won in 1953 with its big man Dickie Hemric.  Duke had star Dick Groat (who would win NL MVP for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960).

North Carolina meanwhile was coming off consecutive 12-15 seasons in 1951 and 1952.  In fact, in the final home game of his career against UNC, Dick Groat scored 48 points in a 94-64 rout.  Groat then said after the game that “beating Carolina in my last game was the most important thing in my career, nothing else in my career would have mattered if we hadn’t won that game.”

Case also had resentment for UNC, the state university with the mother lode of alumni, money, and influence in Raleigh, the capital city and where NC State was located.  Case had beaten UNC 15 consecutive times by the end of the 1952 season.

North Carolina hired Frank McGuire in May, 1952 just two months after McGuire led St. Johns to the NCAA Championship Game.  McGuire was a NYC slicking ass-kicker who had not been seen before in the south.  McGuire brought basketball branding to North Carolina.  His players traveled in team blazers, were clean-shaven, and were trimmed neatly.  He had also taken steps to control fan behavior.  McGuire and Case worked hard to get their sport up to the level of football in the south.  One of the attempts was for only the ACC tournament winner to go to the NCAA tournament.  This was Case’s idea and McGuire didn’t like it.  McGuire beat Case in his first try in Raleigh but wouldn’t beat him again for 6 more games.  Duke also beat McGuire in their first five matchups.  But McGuire eventually used his avenue through New York to recruit players and get a good team.

everettcase_original_display_image safe_image

At top, Everett Case.  At bottom, Frank McGuire *photos courtesy of Bleacher Report and Facebook

Duke actually at one point in the fall of 1949 had Red Auerbach set to coach them (yes Celtics fans, that very same Red Auerbach!).  He had spent many afternoons in the gym with Dick Groat, but Auerbach was only on to replace an ailing Gerry Gerard if Gerard couldn’t go.  Auerbach never felt comfortable in this circumstance and left Duke before their first game of the season.  Duke had a decent team throughout the 1950’s but couldn’t win a conference title.  NC State took the first 3 ACC Championships from 1954-1956.

Then McGuire finally got “four Catholics and a Jew” together for an undefeated National Championship in 1957 (the nickname was for the starting five of Pete Brennan, Bob Cunningham, Tommy Kearns, Joe Quigg, and All-American Lennie Rosenbluth.. I’m sure you can guess which one was Jewish.. if not, it’s the All-American).  Part of that undefeated season included a home game against Duke when the two schools played the first college basketball game ever on television.  ‘Broadvision’ brought video but no audio to local public TV.  The fans had to listen to the radio play-by-play.  This was the brainchild of UNC comptroller Billy Carmichael Jr. (who would later have the UNC basketball home court named after him – Carmichael Auditorium).  Carolina lost an eight-point lead in the last two minutes helped by two steals from Duke’s Bobby Joe Harris (a local guard who hated UNC because they didn’t recruit him).  If you’ve ever seen an old Carolina game (from the Michael Jordan era, for example) at Carmichael Auditorium, there’s a hand-operated scoreboard at a corner table run by the UNC student-manager.  After his tying basket, Harris looked at that score board and it read ‘UNC 73, Duke 71.’  Believing what he saw, Harris intentionally fouled Kearns who made the winning free throws for a 75-73 final.

Ironically, also during that season at the Final Four in Kansas City before UNC’s matchup with Kansas in the National Championship Game, McGuire met a Jayhawks alum who had played on their 1952 National Championship team that had beaten McGuire and St. Johns.  This man was recommended to McGuire as a possible assistant and he would eventually become a UNC assistant coach in 1958 and head coach in 1961.  That man’s name was Dean Smith.

In 1958, McGuire’s team returned every starter except Rosenbluth (although Quigg missed the season with a broken leg).  The Tarheels won 11 of their first 12 games but then lost 4 of its next 10 including a 16-point drubbing to Duke at home.  Duke was on an 11-game winning streak when both teams rematched in Durham for the final regular season game with identical first-place 10-3 conference records.  Even back in the day, Duke had boisterous, raucous crowds.  And they were waiting for the defending National Champs.  Duke had no starter taller than 6’6″ and had no player in the top 10 in scoring in the league.  But the small lineup worked in the final game as Duke grabbed an early lead and UNC had to chase them for the game.  With two seconds left, Bobby Joe Harris called a timeout with Duke up 59-46.  McGuire objected to this but Harris wanted to stick it to Carolina after the scoreboard gaffe from the year before.

Duke students poured over the Carolina bench and the refs called the game.  While the students celebrated their first-place finish by carrying coach Hal Bradley on their shoulders.  McGuire kept his team huddled for 20 minutes and requested a police escort to the locker room.  Bill Murray, not the actor but the guy in charge of operations at what would later be named Cameron Indoor Stadium, took offense to this act and never responded by sending police over to escort Carolina.  Even some Carolina players saw McGuire’s ‘grandstanding’ as unnecessary.  UNC eventually left the floor and building without confrontation but Murray was quoted in the papers that next week as calling it an ‘uncalled-for demonstration.’  “In all my coaching experience, I have never seen a more obvious exhibition.  It was the most revolting act by a college coach I’ve ever witnessed,” said Murray.  “The very idea of McGuire requiring police protection to go to his dressing room is absurd.  He has created a monster in his publicity-seeking statements supposedly made to stop such things as this.  I once admired him.  Now I blame him.”  McGuire in the same paper had a typical New Yorkish response saying that ‘he wished Murray had come to me with those remarks.’

But this was nothing compared to a recruiting battle that these schools would get into in 1959 for the best high school player in the nation.

McGuire kept tapping back to his ties in New York and one player he was looking at was 6’5″ wild bull Art Heyman.  In the 1958 season, Heyman’s high school team matched up against a team led by Larry Brown.  Brown’s team won as Larry scored 45 and after the game Heyman hugged him and said they should go to the same college.  Both were Jewish and heard the same catcalls and taunts from opposing crowds.  Brown’s coach Bob Gersten, a UNC graduate and a ‘scout’ for McGuire, hosted a party at his home after the game.  There McGuire met Heyman’s step-father, and they didn’t like each other.  Brown was a year older than Heyman and McGuire offered the senior a scholarship to UNC which Brown readily accepted.  McGuire told Heyman he’d have another one for him next year.  As it turned out, Brown had to go to prep school for a half-year before he could get into UNC.  So Larry after completing it took in several games of Heyman’s school.  Heyman was averaging 30 points and 25 rebounds as a senior and was on his way to shattering the region’s prep career record.


Larry Brown (left) and Art Heyman *photo courtesy of CBS News

While waiting for Brown and Heyman’s arrivals, McGuire had a good team in 1959.  They won 17 of their first 18 games and were ranked number one.  McGuire chartered a luxury coach for their late season trip to Maryland and Virginia.  McGuire brought sportswriters and friends on the trip along with his players and paid for meals whenever they stopped.  Carolina lost both games to the unranked teams.  But McGuire still brought his team to the NCAA tournament even though they lost to NC State in the ACC title game.  NC State was ineligible after Case had offered $1,000 in cash and $200 in new clothes to a recruit and a seven-year college and medical scholarship to his girlfriend in 1956.  State was given a four-year postseason ban for all their sports.  The recruit transferred after his freshman year.  McGuire didn’t think Case and his team should have participated in the ACC Tournament (this would become a factor a few years later) and made a mockery of the Championship Game by resting his starters for more than 20 minutes.  UNC lost in the opening round to Navy despite the rest.

McGuire stayed in New York after the loss to continue and recruit Heyman who narrowed his choices down to St. Johns, NYU, and UNC.  Duke still recruited him even after Bradley left for Texas in 1959.  Bradley’s leaving left Heyman so sure he wasn’t going to Duke that he didn’t care what he said to his hosts when he visited Durham.  When Heyman was being shown around campus by other players, he cracked that he’d “like to get a few of you under the boards sometime.”  The other players weren’t even mad when Heyman signed with UNC a few weeks later, figuring that in a year they’d get their shot at him.

On May 5, 1959, Duke Athletic Director Eddie Cameron (for whom Cameron Indoor Stadium is named after) hired the second greatest coach in Duke history.  Vic Bubas was an assistant under Case for the previous 6 seasons but was not implicated in the charges against State.  Bubas’ job was to try and get Duke back on the map, the Blue Devils hadn’t had a signature player since Groat graduated in 1952.  Bubas joined a crowd of about 50 people watching a summer league game between teams with Heyman and Brown on opposite ends.  One of those 50 people were Heyman’s step-father who Bubas was aware didn’t like McGuire.  After a Heyman drive, Bubas would excitedly scream in the senior Heyman’s ear that ‘he had to have his step-son.’  The game ended with Heyman and Brown pushing and shoving each other, giving Bubas more hope.

Heyman’s step-father drove Art to pre-freshman orientation at UNC a few weeks later.  Bill Heyman was not interested in seeing McGuire but Frank showed up to the University Motel one night after Art had gone to the movies with a UNC player.  Bill asked if McGuire required strict class attendance and if he was serious about his players getting degrees.  McGuire, used to using his charm to get the parents to trust him, resented the questions.  The discussion turned into an argument and the younger Heyman had to seperate the two when he returned.

According to ACC rules, Heyman’s letter of intent wasn’t binding until July 1.  So Bubas kept making trips to New York to woo Art’s mother and step-father.  “He [Bubas] convinced them I should go to Duke,” Art said.  “He charmed my mother and step-father.  They made me go to Duke.  My friends from New York like Larry [Brown] and Doug Moe were at Carolina.  If Duke hadn’t picked me up at the airport, I would have just gone down the road and started school there [at UNC].”  Bill Heyman claimed McGuire’s men pressured him to sign the paper and that he had never intended to send his step-son to UNC.  While preparing for his trip to enroll at Duke, Heyman received hatemail with threats of how difficult his life would be if he went through with the change and that he should instead go to another school in another conference.  One of these letters arrived with a Chapel Hill post mark.  “Mr. Cameron told me never to go to Chapel Hill,” Heyman said, “Because McGuire hated Duke with a passion.  I remembered that after I visited UNC, we were going to drive to Durham to see Duke, and McGuire didn’t want us to do that.  The word was after I committed to Duke, they [UNC] hired a private eye to follow me around and get me in trouble.”

During the 1960 season, Heyman and Brown starred for their freshman teams.  Heyman continued to get hate mail and threats and when their freshman teams met, the Carolina players slurred Heyman.  Duke freshman coach Bucky Waters called a timeout early in the game and told an upset Heyman that he would be a target from now on because of not only his reputation but his talent.  Heyman kept his cool and scored 34 points in a one-sided affair.  Late in the game, UNC’s Dieter Krause nailed Heyman from behind with a clenched fist, according to Waters.  Heyman was taken to the hospital for six stitches in his mouth and Waters had an ugly, physical confrontation with UNC’s freshman coach.

On the varsity level in 1960, UNC returned everyone from its 1959 tournament team and tied Wake Forest at 12-2 for the regular season title.  Meanwhile, Duke in waiting for Heyman recorded a 7-7 record as Carolina beat them three times by at least 22 points.  They met in the ACC Semifinals, and underdog Duke grabbed a 35-19 lead early.  Duke, led by 30 points from 6’6″ center Carroll Youngkin, held off Carolina 71-69 and would deny UNC a possible tournament berth.  Carolina had come into the game as a 15-point favorite.  Duke went on to surprise Wake Forest 71-66 in the Championship Game for their first ACC title and second NCAA tournament appearance (they had appeared in 1955 despite NC State winning the ACC Championship).  Duke made it to the East Regional Finals before losing to NYU.

In the summer of 1960, the NCAA investigated McGuire’s travel expenses from the 1959 trip to Maryland and Virginia.  McGuire had kept no record of the tabs.  McGuire refused to answer most of the questions during the NCAA hearing and the board cited UNC for excessive expenditures.  UNC Chancellor Bill Aycock (great name, great name) asked McGuire if this was true and Frank denied it.  So McGuire had his assistant Dean Smith help Aycock gather information to refute the charges.  Smith and Aycock flew to San Francisco to appeal the case in the fall of 1960.  It was during this time together that Aycock decided that if he ever needed to hire a coach, Smith would be his guy.  Smith had gathered enough documentation for the Council that they sent the case back to the infractions committee for a second look.

In the Dixie Classic on New Year’s Eve, UNC played Duke and Moe had held Heyman to 5 points in the final 35 minutes of a 76-71 UNC win.  UNC was still considered the team to beat in the ACC while Duke was adjusting to Heyman’s presence.  Five days after the win, McGuire was summoned by the NCAA for a final hearing in Pittsburgh.  An annoyed McGuire wise-mouthed the committee again and the NCAA put UNC on probation for the 1961 season, killing any NCAA tournament hopes.  McGuire then in a bold move, using the same rationale that he criticized Case with in 1959, pulled his team out of the ACC tournament.  Some of McGuire’s players and fans were annoyed at this move.  UNC stayed at number 5 in the polls but Heyman and Duke had not lost since UNC and had climbed to number 4 when the two teams were set to meet at Duke on February 4.

A Nor’easter paralyzed much of the state that week.  Many high school games were cancelled but not the big matchup that was scheduled for Regional TV on a Saturday night.  Heyman had hung a newspaper picture of Moe in his dorm room since Doug had shut him down in the first matchup and he stayed in his room a little longer than usual before going out into the cold and snow to the stadium.  The Tar Heel players were not only mad about Heyman ditching them, they were mad about the probation and from being yanked from the ACC tournament.  Not only was Heyman a marked man but so was McGuire after his ill will in 1958 especially.  There were a few more Durham police at this game than normal.  In the first half, Moe threw an elbow that barely missed Heyman’s nose and the two were eye-to-eye before being broken up.  But Heyman said it wasn’t the elbow that had him mad.  “He spit on me,” Heyman said.  “Every time I took a shot he spit at me, and I told him I wasn’t going to take that.  I said to Doug, ‘I’ve got a cold, so the next time you do it, you get it right back in the face.'”

Heyman hit 9 of his first 11 shots but Carolina led 35-34 at the half.  Led by Larry Brown, the Tarheels led 73-70 with three minutes left.  Then Heyman scored 5 of the next 6 Duke points.  Every possession after that resulted in a foul and it was Heyman’s own free throws that gave Duke an 80-75 lead with 15 seconds left.  Brown then drove down the court to the baseline and as he went up to shoot, Heyman grabbed his shoulders and bear-hugged him to prevent a clean shot.

As the foul was being called, Brown broke free, threw the ball at Heyman and began swinging.  Heyman swung back at Brown and this caused bedlam in front of the UNC bench.  Carolina’s Donnie Walsh hit Heyman from behind and knocked both he and Brown down as Carolina players piled on.  Heyman got up and looked for Walsh, who had backed out of the play.  Doug Moe had his jersey ripped off by Duke students and fans.

After about 10 minutes, the court was cleared and players ushered back to their benches and students back to the stands.  More heated words were exchanged when the officials met McGuire and Bubas at the scorer’s table.  Heyman was thrown out for allegedly throwing the first punch.  Brown was not and hit the two free throws but Duke held on to win 81-77.


sequential shots of the Larry Brown and Art Heyman fight from 1961 *photo courtesy of Image Slides

Two months of controversy ensued as film (such as above) was being reviewed by the heads of the ACC.  Duke and Heyman set out to prove that Brown had in fact thrown the first punch (and the referee that had thrown Heyman out admitted his mistake and said Brown had done it).

Ten days later it was announced that Heyman, Brown and Walsh would be suspended for their remaining conference games.  Since UNC had pulled out of the ACC tournament, Brown and Walsh’s seasons were over.  Heyman was able to return for the tournament but Duke lost to Wake Forest.  Carolina defeated Duke 69-66 in overtime in the rematch as everyone was on their best behavior and the game without the original combatants went off without a hitch.  In the summer after the second college point-shaving scandal in ten years went off, two Carolina players were found implicated, one of them was Moe who would not play in the NBA as a result (although he later coached the Spurs and Nuggets).  Moe admitted accepting $75 but denied shaving points.  McGuire and the University were at odds after the probation and Aycock disciplined McGuire.  Frank left in August to coach the Philadelphia Warriors and Smith took his place.

For better or worse, the fight between Heyman and Brown had taken Duke-North Carolina from a neighborhood brawl to a national sensation.  The broadcast had reached five states, so ‘the fight’ reached some folklore.  That was, in fact, the final straw in a three-year oddesy that led to this becoming the greatest rivalry in college basketball history.  Brown and Heyman were in Israel over the summer to co-captain the USA team to a Gold Medal in the Jewish Olympics.  For now at least, their differences were settled.

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