From HoopediaJanuary 13, 1933 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is one of Philadelphia's most famous basketball players.
Gola was praised as a great all-around player as a high school student at La Salle College High School, where he led the Explorers to a Philadelphia Catholic League Championship. He entered La Salle a year after another Hall of Famer, Paul Arizin, graduated. Gola came to national attention while playing for the hometown La Salle Explorers. As a sophomore, he led La Salle to 1952 NIT championship and was named co-MVP. In 1954 he led the Explorers to the NCAA National Championship and was named Tournament MVP. That same year he was chosen National Player of the Year. As a senior, Gola led La Salle to a runner-up finish in NCAA Tournament (1955). During his four years at La Salle 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", Gola was clearly a forward who could score, rebound and defend, but he also had the ballhandling skills of a guard. With his shooting range and defensive skills, he could play just as well in the backcourt.
After a phenomenal college career, Gola turned pro with the Philadelphia Warriors as a territorial pick. He teamed with All-Pros Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston to lead the Warriors to the 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 alongside.
Gola played with the New York Knicks from 1962 to 1966. He finished his NBA career with 7,871 points and 5,605 rebounds.
In 1968, he returned to La Salle University to serve as an acclaimed basketball 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 and #2 in the polls during the 1968-69 season, but La Salle was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to NCAA sanctions. (An over-zealous alumnus had given some players "no show" jobs.)
La Salle named its basketball arena Tom Gola Arena at Hayman Center in 1999 in his honor.
Gola was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 26, 1976.
After his retirement from basketball, Gola served in the Pennsylvania State Legislature, followed by a stint as Philadelphia City Controller. He ran for city mayor in 1983, but came in third in the race.
On July 25, 2003, the 70-year-old Gola fell and suffered a head injury that left him in a coma for several days, but he soon recovered enough to return home.
Gola's grandson Anthony is a student at Resurrection Of Our Lord in Philadelphia, and continues to keep basketball in the Gola family.