Tom Gola was one of the most talented collegiate athletes in Philadelphia sports history. He came to national attention while playing for the hometown La Salle University Explorers men’s basketball team. Gola starred as a college freshman and led La Salle to the 1952 N.I.T. championship. Gola paced the Explorers to the NCAA basketball championship in 1954 and was named Tournament MVP. That same season he was selected as National Player of the Year. As a senior, Gola helped La Salle finish as the runner-up in the 1955 NCAA Tournament. He averaged 20.9 points and 19.0 rebounds during 115 games and holds the NCAA record with 2,201 career rebounds. At 6’6″ (198 cm), Gola was clearly a forward who could shoot/score, rebound and defend, but he also had the ballhandling (dribbling, passing) skills of a guard, and with his shooting range and All-Pro defensive skills, could play just as well in the backcourt. He was inducted into the La Salle Hall of Athletes in 1961 and the Big 5 Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1977, Tom Gola was inducted into the National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame. Gola was listed on “ESPN’s Countdown to the Greatest” College basketball players as #17.
After a phenomenal college career, Tom Gola turned pro with the Philadelphia Warriors as a territorial draft pick. He teamed with All-Pros Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston to lead the Warriors to an NBA championship in 1956. He gained praise for concentrating on defense, passing and rebounding and allowing the other two to be the chief scorers during these years. In 1959, Johnston temporarily retired due to a knee injury and the Warriors added seven-foot superstar Wilt Chamberlain. Again sacrificing himself for his team, Gola helped the Warriors back to the NBA Finals, but they could not beat the star-studded Boston Celtics during his seasons in the early 1960s even with Chamberlain. During the 1959-60 season, Gola became the first Warrior to have three straight games with a triple-double (the only other being Draymond Green, 2016). Gola played with the New York Knicks from 1962 to 1966. He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 26, 1976. In 1968, Tom Gola returned to his alma mater as head coach, leading the Explorers to a 37-13 record during his two-year stay. He was named Coach of the Year by Philadelphia and New York journalists. He led the Explorers to a 23-1 record during the 1968-69 season, but La Salle had been barred from the NCAA Tournament before the season because an alumnus had offered some players “no-show” jobs. The school’s Tom Gola Arena was named after him. Tom Gola was married to Caroline Norris in June 1955, and they had one son Thomas Christopher. Gola died on January 26, 2014 at the age of 81 in Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania. A former US Army specialist, he was buried at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
- January, 13, 1933
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- January, 26, 2014
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Washington Crossing National Cemetery
- Newtown, Pennsylvania