Monday, July 17, 2006
Interview with former Knick, Art Heyman
Downtown Q &A
You can’t miss Art Heyman when you walk into his bar, Tracy J’s Watering Hole, off of Park Ave. If it’s during the day, he’s probably sitting at the window looking out on 19 St., reading the sports pages. Forty-one years ago Heyman played for the Knicks, one of the few Jews to ever suit up in an NBA uniform. A star at Duke, he was the Knicks’ No. 1 draft pick in 1963. Heyman made the all-rookie team, averaging more than 15 points per game. But in his second season, he clashed with the coach and was soon dispatched to San Francisco. Heyman ended his basketball career in the ABA, winning a championship with the Pittsburgh Pipers in 1968. After his playing days were over, he went to law school and became a restaurateur. The 65-year-old Heyman opened the sports/karaoke bar’s Tracy J’s in 1996.
Who is Tracy J?
My ex-wife’s daughter.
What kind of clientele do you have?
We have karaoke on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Plus, all the Duke kids come in for basketball. We do a lot of business with basketball, baseball and football.
What about the Knick crowd?
Where? It’s not that much. It’s basically more of a college crowd.
You’ve known ex-Knick coach Larry Brown for more than 50 years. You both grew up on Long Island and played against each other in college and the pros. What kind of player was he?
Larry was a great point guard.
What’s the story about you and him getting into a fight during a game in 1961 when he was at the University of North Carolina and you were at Duke?
With about seven seconds to go, he drove for the basket and I fouled him hard. He threw the ball at me and started swinging, and I cold-cocked him. I also hit Donnie Walsh [current president of the Indiana Pacers]. All three of us were suspended. It cost Duke the national championship because we had the best team in the country.
Have you stayed in touch with Larry over the years?
Off and on. He played for New Orleans and I played for the Pittsburgh in the ABA. We beat them to win the championship.
What’s your take on Larry’s short-lived run as coach of the Knicks?
I was the only one who said it was a bad fit. I know Larry as well as anybody. That wasn’t his kind of team. And he couldn’t change it. With his egomaniacal mind, and Isiah Thomas’s and Jim Dolan’s, I knew it was going to be a bad fit. I was 100% right.
You weren’t surprised how bad the Knicks were in the 2005-2006 season?
No, not at all. It’s Larry’s way. For Larry to be happy he has to be unhappy, so he makes an unhappy situation. That’s his whole life.
What did you think of the Knicks letting him go?
It was his own doing. He went behind the boss’ back with trades. He completely demeaned his players in the papers. Stephon Marbury, Stevie Francis, Jalen Rose, all of them – and he wanted these players.
Why would he demean them when he wanted them?
Because he was getting a little crazy. New York is his hometown and they’re getting the shit kicked out of them and he has to have a reason why. It’s couldn’t be him.
You don’t think if he stuck around, he might have been able to…
No, no way. Nooo way. When your 66 years old, you have all the money in the world and you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re not going to change. You’re going to change for a 25-year-old kid? No way. Not Larry. He doesn’t conform. In professional basketball, you have to conform to the players.
What do you make of Isiah’s chances to improve the Knicks?
Isiah’s going to turn this around – and I’m not a big fan of his.
What do you think of the Knicks’ squad as it stands now?
With Larry leaving, these guys are going to come into camp in shape to show Larry Brown that he was 100% wrong. Marbury, Francis, Channing Frye and David Lee – you’ve got a good team there. If a guy has a bad game, you can’t sit him for three weeks. You get your rotation and you play. The division they’re in is not the greatest division, so they should do well.
What kind of turnaround are you predicting?
I think they’ll be 41-41 and they’ll make the playoffs. Let them run like Phoenix.
What happened during your second season with the Knicks?
I just didn’t care anymore. I had the ability, but I never had the right attitude. The worst thing that ever happened to me was being drafted by the Knicks. They thought I was the savior and I was wasn’t. I wasn’t 6’-10 and black. Back then you had to be Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlin.
Why did you stop caring?
In college, everybody worked together. In the pros, it was so individualistic. I couldn’t cope with it. I didn’t compromise. I cared in college, I cared my first year in the pros and I cared in the ABA. Every time I cared, I played well. I was my own worst enemy.
Why are there so few Jewish athletes in professional sports?
African-American kids want to get out of the ghetto through sports. Jewish kids have it too easy. Their parents don’t push them into sports, they push them into education. I just had the drive.
You’re in the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. What comes with that honor?
A plaque and I get a dozen bagels every year – without cream cheese.
Postscript: In the 2006-2007 season the Knicks improved by 10 games to 33-49. However, unlike Heyman predicted, they didn't make the playoffs.
DUKE PHOTO COURTESY OF ART HEYMAN; KNICK PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL JEWISH SPORTS HALL OF FAME & MUSEUM
The prices are good, the TV screens are everywhere, and the service is top shelf.
What else would you want?
But this interview is even more amazing!
I was on LB's side until I read this... It makes too much sense.
Larry Brown was a tough nut as a teen & still is.
We all played at Central School in Long Beach during the summers & Heyman was by far the better all-around player.
Larry Brown was a tough nut as a teen & still is.
We all played at Central School during the summers & Art was by far the better all-around player.
Art could do it all.
larry Brown was a tough nut even as a teen & apparently that has not changed.
We'd play our summer games at the Centrak School courts, now condo's, in Long Beach.
Art was by far the better all-around player.
Some of the older men didn't like Artie's attitude & many a hard foul was given. 6 points win.
Tom from Pgh
Bob Weinstein, Becket, Massachusetts