As Jacob Silverman noted yesterday, the recent hunt for the “Jewish Jordan” has been a fruitless one (and, perhaps, a slightly myopically tribal one). But before #23 ever laced up a pair of Nikes, there was Art Heyman.
After Oceanside High, Heyman became a star baller at Duke University, winning NCAA Player of the Year honors as well as NCAA Tourney MVP honors in 1963. He went to play for the Knicks (as the No. 1 pick) before capturing a championship in the now-defunct American Basketball Association. In addition to being a star, he also had that Jordan-esque inner fire, which in Heyman’s case, manifested itself in tenacity, surliness, and competitiveness.
By his own account, he could be difficult to deal with, clashing with coaches, players and eventually his alma mater, which he resented for not retiring his jersey number, No. 25, until 1990.
The magazine [Sports Illustrated] said Heyman’s nickname was the Pest and described his playing style as “calculated to make points, not friends.”
Earlier that month, Brown and Heyman were suspended for the season after getting into a fight. Heyman had fouled Brown hard while he drove for a layup late in the game. Duke won, 81-77, behind Heyman’s 36 points. The layup, the foul and the fight are preserved on YouTube. (Heyman admitted in several interviews that during the fight he also punched North Carolina Coach Frank McGuire in the groin.)
Heyman died earlier this week in Florida. He is one of only 13 Duke players to have his jersey retired.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.