Tom Gola, 81, a giant from Philadelphia basketball's greatest generation who parlayed his fame as perhaps the most honored player in college history into a career in the NBA, politics, and business, died Sunday at St. Joseph's Manor in Meadowbrook.....Wow, that's quite a career.
The square-jawed son of a Philadelphia policeman, Mr. Gola had led a life so charmed it seemed to have been scripted for a fictional hero.
He won championships at every level, from elementary school to the NBA, coached a college team many consider to be the best in Big Five history, was elected to state and citywide offices as well as the basketball Hall of Fame, became a successful businessman, and saw his alma mater's arena named in his honor.
Not bad for someone who grew up in an Olney rowhouse, just around the corner from the Incarnation of Our Lord parish gym, where he learned the game that would make him a local legend.
Mr. Gola transformed Incarnation's team into national schoolboy champions; paced La Salle College High to a city title; and then, at La Salle College, enjoyed astounding success.
With Mr. Gola as their do-everything star, the Explorers won the 1952 National Invitation Tournament title and 1954 NCAA title and, in his senior season of 1955, were NCAA runners-up. In his four years there, La Salle won 102 of 121 games.
He was an MVP in those NCAA and NIT titles, the college player of the year in 1955, and the first player named a first-team all-American four consecutive seasons.
He scored more than 20 points a game, although he probably could have averaged 30. And though he frequently brought the ball up court for coach Ken Loeffler's La Salle teams, Mr. Gola managed to collect an astounding 2,201 rebounds, an NCAA career record that has stood for more than half a century.
Then, in his rookie season with the hometown Warriors, who had made him a territorial pick, Mr. Gola helped Philadelphia win the 1956 NBA championship.
He was a five-time NBA all-star during his 10 pro seasons, but Mr. Gola became primarily a defensive specialist. He averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists a game before retiring in 1966 after a stint with the New York Knicks. Mr. Gola coached two seasons at his alma mater, most notably guiding the Explorers to a 23-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking in 1968-69. But because of NCAA violations during the tenure of his predecessor, Jim Harding, those Explorers were ineligible for postseason play. He coached one more season at La Salle and then concentrated on politics.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Basketball Legend Tom Gola Dies