By Harry Allison
As anyone who has been paying attention for the past 100 years knows, Philly is the greatest hotbed of basketball in this sports-crazy country.
And, yesterday LaSalle University again showed us why.
La Salle unveiled a sculpture of legendary basketball player Tom Gola ’55 in the Hayman Center Hall of Athletes area.
Gola, a four-time All-American, 1955 National Player of the Year and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, led La Salle to the 1952 NIT and 1954 NCAA Championships.
He died a year ago today, January 26, 2014.
He is the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder, pulling down 2,201 in his four-year career. Gola was the first player in NCAA history to score 2,000 points and grab 2,000 rebounds and is one of only two players to ever achieve the feat.
The 6-6 forward is the third all-time scorer at La Salle, pouring in 2,461 points in his career. La Salle compiled a 102-19 record during Gola’s playing career. He also coached the Explorers for two seasons, 1968-69 and 1969-70, with a 37-13 record.
He played 11 seasons in the NBA with Philadelphia Warriors, San Francisco Warriors and New York Knicks, winning the 1956 NBA Championship as a rookie with the Warriors. Gola was a five-time NBA all-star and is one of two players to win a NIT, NCAA and NBA title.
The statue was created by artist Chad Fisher, who has also sculpted former Flyers coach Fred Shero and NFL Films president Steve Sabol.
“Tom Gola is at the bedrock of this institution,” interim president Dr. James Gallagher said. “We all know how he performed as a ball player, but it is the other part of his life that we are celebrating today; a great human being, a person that loved those around him and a great public servant.”
Caroline Gola, Tom’s widow, thanked those in attendance and Fisher, for his work on the statue.
LaSalle legend Larry Cannon, who competed for Gola on one of La Salle’s best teams in 1968-69, also spoke.
“I can’t express how important an individual that Tom Gola was in my life and in so many lives,” Cannon said. “To honor him and celebrate him in this fashion with a statue truly is an appropriate tribute. Tom Gola was basketball royalty and his accomplishments were such that they should not be forgotten. And now with a statue such as this, his memory will continue for a very long time.”
Brother Joe Grabenstein, La Salle archivist and a close friend of the Golas, blessed the statue.
“Today we remember a person who touched our hearts and who gave us pride in being Philadelphians and in being Lasallians,” Grabenstein said. “What a life’s journey was Tom Golas.”