A living legend
Former La Salle player and coach Tom Gola has been named to the inaugural class of the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Men’s Basketball Legends.
The class consists of 16 former men’s basketball players and coaches who made major impacts on A-10 basketball programs.
Gola, a longtime resident of Pine Valley and Somerton, and many of the other members never actually competed in the conference, which formed in 1976 and was known as the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League and the Eastern 8. The conference changed its name to the Atlantic 10 in 1982. La Salle joined in 1995. Today, there are 17 full or partial members in the conference, which has nonetheless kept the Atlantic 10 name.
“The considerable contributions each of these gentlemen made to their institution and its basketball program played an important role in shaping the foundation of men’s basketball in the Atlantic 10,” Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade said in a statement. “Whether it was building a program that eventually became a founding member or furthering the conference as it grew into a basketball power, each of the honorees is a part of the fabric of A-10 history and we’re thrilled to be able to honor them.”
Besides Gola, the class is made up coaches John Chaney (Temple), Tony Hinkle (Butler) and Skip Prosser (Xavier); player/coach Johnny Bach (Fordham); and players Mike Bantom (St. Joseph’s), Red Auerbach (George Washington), Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell (Charlotte), Donald “Monk” Meineke (Dayton), Chuck Cooper (Duquesne), Lou Roe (Massachusetts), Steve Chubin (Rhode Island), Johnny Newman (Richmond), Earl Belcher (St. Bonaventure), Gerald Henderson (Virginia Commonwealth) and Anthony Bonner (Saint Louis).
Gola, Chaney, Auerbach and Hinkle are all members of the Naismith National Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Legends will be honored on March 16 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., prior to the conference semifinals. Each honoree will be also be saluted during an awards brunch earlier in the day.
Gola, who turned 80 on Jan. 13, grew up in Olney. He starred in basketball for Incarnation of Our Lord and La Salle High School before enrolling at La Salle College.
In college, he was a three-time All-American. He was Co-Most Valuable Player when the Explorers won the NIT championship in 1952. He was Outstanding Player in 1954 when he led his team to the NCAA title.
After all these years, he still holds the NCAA record for career rebounds, with 2,201.
In the NBA, he won a championship with the old Philadelphia Warriors as a rookie in 1955-56. He went on to play in five all-star games. He retired from the New York Knicks in 1966.
That same year, he was elected as a Republican to a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He served a pair of two-year terms.
While in the House, he coached the La Salle men’s basketball team for two years. In 1969, the Explorers were 23-1 and ranked second in the nation, but were prohibited from competing in the NCAA tournament because of rules violations committed before Gola’s tenure.
Also in 1969, Gola was elected city controller. He served one four-year term. He also ran in the 1983 Republican primary for mayor.
After leaving politics, he worked in business.
In 2003, he suffered serious injuries when he fell outside a restaurant and hit his head on a curb. He has had a series of medical setbacks since then. Today, he lives in St. Joseph Manor in Meadowbrook.
Over the years, he has earned many honors. La Salle named its gym Tom Gola Arena and retired his No. 15 jersey. He has also been inducted into the Northeast Philadelphia, Big Five, Archdiocese of Philadelphia CYO, Philadelphia Sports, Madison Square Garden and Polish Halls of Fame. ••