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Art Heyman still says Larry Brown started the fight

Oceanside High's own Art Heyman played a pivotal role in the Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry, and he plays a pivotal role in the HBO documentary on that topic that debuts Monday.

I spoke to Heyman from his home in Florida Thursday and, as in the HBO show, he remains convinced, 48 years later, that the infamous 1961 fight between the teams was all the fault of UNC's Larry Brown, a childhood rival from Long Beach."It's weird, because Larry always says in the paper that I started it," Heyman said. "He threw the ball! . . . It was all Frank McGuire just building up the emotions. Oh, how they hated me!"

That was because Heyman seemed poised to join McGuire's New York pipeline to Chapel Hill. But a dispute between McGuire and Heyman's stepfather prompted Heyman to sign with Duke instead.

Heyman ended up getting suspended for three games after the fight with Brown, which many point to as the start of the storied rivalry.

"That cost us the national championship,'' he said. "That killed us. They suspended me for three games and we never got back."

Heyman said he appealed to ACC officials, pointing out he had shown restraint when fans at Virginia and Clemson called him "a Jew bastard."

"But when someone punches me and throws the ball at me, I’m going to fight back," he said. "They upheld the suspension."

Heyman said McGuire kicked him during the melee, and that he in turn punched the coach in his, um, private areas. "A few years later he came to my restaurant and put his hand on his ---- and said, 'It still hurts.'"

Heyman said some on Tobacco Road were surprised to learn he was Jewish. "They couldn't believe I was athletic and tough and didn't have horns," he said.

Once, Heyman attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting with some Duke football players.

"I went in the back and saw them with the white coats," he said. "They burned a cross. I said, 'I have to get my ass out of here.'''

Heyman, 67, splits time between Rockville Centre and his home near Orlando. He left his Manhattan restaurant, Tracy J's, about a year ago, but wants to get back into the business.

What's his relationship with Brown these days?

"When we see each other, we speak, but it’s not close," he said. "I’ve known Larry the longest of anybody. We've been playing against each other since the eighth grade."

And, of course . . . "they started that fight."

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