PHILADELPHIA — Tom Gola, the Hall of Famer who led La Salle to the 1954 NCAA title, still holds the Division I record for career rebounds and helped the Philadelphia Warriors win the 1956 NBA championship, died Sunday. He was 81.
Gola also led La Salle to the 1952 NIT title and a runner-up finish in the 1955 NCAA tournament. He set the NCAA Division I record for career rebounds with 2,201 and scored 2,461 points. He and former George Washington player Joe Holup are the only players in NCAA Division I history to top 2,000 in both points and rebounds.
“I am deeply saddened to hear the news about the passing of Tom Gola, a former teammate and one of the true gentlemen of the game,” Warriors teammate Al Attles said in a statement Sunday night. “He was a Hall of Fame player, but an even better person. His nickname was ‘Saint’ and for good reason. He had a huge impact on the Warriors’ early success in Philadelphia and, of course, was part of the original team that moved West to San Francisco in 1962. My sympathy goes out to his entire family. He will be missed.”
Gola later coached at La Salle, where the arena is named after him.
“Tom was a Philadelphia icon whose name is synonymous with basketball,” said Brother Michael J. McGinniss, La Salle’s prsident. “His legacy will live on at La Salle forever and in the university’s Tom Gola Arena.”
Late UCLA coach John Wooden called Gola the “greatest all-round basketball player” ever.
Part of his popularity stemmed from the fact that Gola, the eldest son of a Philadelphia policeman, chose to play at a hometown college despite receiving more than 50 scholarship offers.
The five-time NBA All-Star concentrated on defense, rebounds and assists because the Warriors already had proven scorers in Chamberlain, Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston.
Gola’s career was interrupted from 1956-58 when he served in the Army.