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Alexander Wolff
March 06, 1995
When North Carolina and Duke tip off on Saturday night, they will try to take the finest feud in a I of sports to even greater heights
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March 06, 1995

An Unrivaled Rivalry

When North Carolina and Duke tip off on Saturday night, they will try to take the finest feud in a I of sports to even greater heights

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Art Heyman was an innocent when he left Long Island for the Triangle of North Carolina 35 years ago. A saint, no—Heyman played basketball and lived life with a hard-to-the-hole swagger—but a naïf just the same. Duke? North Carolina? Heyman could barely tell a Tar Devil from a Blue Heel when he arrived at Raleigh-Durham Airport to play ball for....

Well, he was going to play for North Carolina. He had even signed a grant-in-aid to attend Chapel Hill. But that was before his campus visit, during which his stepfather said something about Tar Heel coach Frank McGuire running "a factory," and McGuire took offense, and Heyman had to keep the two men from throwing punches at each other.

So Heyman wound up going to Duke, where Vic Bubas had just taken over as coach. "My friends from New York, Larry Brown and Doug Moe, they were at Carolina," Heyman says today. "If Duke hadn't been there to pick me up at the airport. I would have just gone down the road and started school there."

He soon learned that there is no such thing as "just going down" Tobacco Road. In a freshman game against Carolina, Moe, Heyman's supposed friend, spat at him. The next season, with Heyman now playing on the Blue Devil varsity, Brown, who would have been his roommate in Chapel Hill, engaged him in fisticuffs, which escalated into a brawl that required 10 cops to break up. A Durham lawyer with ties to the Tar Heels would swear out an assault warrant against Heyman over an altercation with a North Carolina male cheerleader during the brawl. And Heyman believes private detectives hired by Tar Heel partisans tailed him for the rest of his career, which may explain why as a senior he was arrested at a Myrtle Beach, S.C., motel—where he and a lady friend had checked in as Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Robertson—and charged with transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes.

By the time he was named national Player of the Year in 1963, Heyman had been vilified, castigated and pilloried, all in the name of shades of blue. Feelings between the two schools got so hostile that Bubas's daughters famously refused to eat a birthday cake because the color of its icing was too close to Carolina blue. To be sure, there had been earlier flare-ups in this neighborhood feud; when the Blue Devils beat up on McGuire's first teams, in the early 1950s, Duke students mocked the Tar Heel coach by slicking back their hair and donning silly ties, and Blue Devil players dribbled over to the Carolina bench to taunt him. The rivalry would stagnate somewhat during the early 1980s, when the Tar Heels' dominance helped them build what's currently a 115-78 overall lead in the series. But the feud heated up again with the Blue Devils' resurgence later in the decade, and today nothing quite compares to what happens when Duke tips off against North Carolina.

Between them the two schools have won four NCAA titles in 13 years and three of the last four. They account for six of the 20 spots in the last five Final Fours. In the trigonometry of the Triangle that encompasses Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, Duke and Carolina are straight lines forming a right angle; you won't find their players on public assistance 10 years out or the schools' names in the police blotter of The NCAA News. "All the players know what kind of game it will be, even if one team is starting five scholarship players and the other starts five walk-ons," says Tar Heel guard Jeff McInnis. Like Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, the two teams can cut each other up in public and then retreat to their adjacent villas and their snifters of brandy, content that they're the very best at what they do.

Last season they met when ranked one-two in the AP poll, and there ensued an appropriately terrific game won by No. 2 North Carolina 89-78. But on Feb. 2 of this season, with the Blue Devils an uncharacteristic 0-7 in the ACC and their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, out for the year with a bad back, and the second-ranked Tar Heels heavily favored, they played an even better game: a 102-100 double-overtime epic of which the winning coach, Carolina's Dean Smith, who has seen a lot, said, "I've never seen anything like it."

That night, a Duke assistant coach says, he witnessed three of the best plays he has ever seen college players make: 6'6" Tar Heel Jerry Stackhouse's in-transition flight past one Duke big man, Cherokee Parks, and over another, Erik Meek, to the far side of the rim for a reverse jam; a tap dunk in traffic by North Carolina's 6'10" Rasheed Wallace; and Parks's block of a dunk attempt by Stackhouse in the final minute of regulation. All three plays were incidental to the evening's greater drama, which actually made ESPN2 color commentator Dick Vitale's hyperventilations seem...considered. Animated by excellence, informed by tradition and stoked by proximity, Duke versus North Carolina stands as the one rivalry all other rivalries secretly wish to be.

A glance at the two institutions would never suggest this. The University of North Carolina is a restrained collection of colonial buildings locked in a town-gown clinch with Chapel Hill, a village so archetypally collegiate that once when there was talk of establishing a state zoo, fuddy-duddy senator Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) is said to have suggested simply throwing a fence around the entire place. By contrast, Duke is Gothic, sedate and remote. With an undergraduate student body only a quarter the size of Carolina's and drawn largely from points north, Duke is private in both charter and, in its redoubt up Highway 15-501, situation.

Yet the campuses sit only eight miles apart, and the municipalities of Chapel Hill and Durham abut one another. For several years not long ago, Krzyzewski and Smith had daughters studying with the same piano teacher. Professors at the two schools collaborate on research and team-teach. Students from one campus check out everything from parties to library books at the other.

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