The scariest thing I ever saw on a basketball court was the maniacal grin of Art Heyman, 10 feet above the floor, as he wielded a pair of scissors.
He was cutting his segment of the net after Oceanside High won the 1959 Nassau County tournament; I stopped taking notes to make sure he got down off the ladder without inadvertently doing harm to anybody, in his zeal.
Life was always an adventure with Heyman, during a game or during conversation. You never knew wherethings were going.
Artie died two weeks ago at the age of 71 in Florida. He would come and go in life, as he did in his mercurial pro basketball career, which consisted of six seasons, two leagues, and eight hitches with seven different teams, plus a few paper transactions with teams that decided they could not use him.
He had so much talent coming along as a big-beamed 6-foot, 5-inch star at Oceanside and Duke that it was reasonable to envision him as the next big thing to Oscar Robertson. In fact, the award he won as the best college player of 1962-63 is now called the Oscar Robertson Trophy.
Heyman must have had Robertson on the brain. When he was at Duke he used to take little sojourns to the Carolina coast, bringing along a lady friend and registering as Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Robertson. Once he was arrested because the girl was under 18. He was not without his flaws, which he knew as well as anybody.
I found him interesting but then again I didn’t have to coach him, as Frank Januszewski did at Oceanside or Vic Bubas did at Duke. He could taunt opponents, take a punch at somebody for no reason, and toss elbows in practice, just out of meanness. He was big enough to insinuate himself toward the basket, like Robertson, and when the Knicks drafted him first in 1963-64, he scored an average of 13.4 points in 75 games – what turned out to be the best season of his career.
The next year he was sitting a lot after Harry Gallatin, the rugged old forward, was brought back from the Midwest to coach the new breed.
This really happened: I was with the Knicks in a hotel lobby in Providence, when one of the players, rolling his eyes, informed us that crazy Artie had been playing poker after a loss to the Celtics earlier in the night, and Gallatin walked by the open door and, in a gesture of friendship, asked if he could take part.
“If you won’t let me into your game, Coach, I won’t let you into mine,” Artie said, and meant it.
The next season he was at Cincinnati, and after that he was in the American Basketball Association. He had a bad back; the attitude was not so good, either.
One year Heyman was playing for the New Jersey Americans, the forerunners of the new Brooklyn Nets. That is to say, before the Nets had Julius Erving from Roosevelt, L.I., they had Artie Heyman from Oceanside, L.I., a few miles away.
After games Artie would beat it back across the George Washington Bridge to the East Side of Manhattan, where he ran a bar that catered to flight attendants and males.
His career in the singles-bar trade was as disjointed as his basketball career or his persona. It was hard to keep things straight with him. I would diagnose him as having concentration issues; there was something sad about him, an inner lost child.
I ran into him in Manhattan in his various bar cycles, would catch up on the phone when I could track down his number. About 15 years ago I ran into him in North Carolina. He did not look healthy, and he felt under-appreciated. It was a long way from Oceanside High, when he climbed that ladder with the sharp object in his hand and nobody dared turn away.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
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