La Salle University on Saturday unveiled a life-size statue of the late basketball great Tom Gola outside its TruMark Financial Center.
The 8-foot statue, sculpted by Brian Hanlon and paid for by donations, shows Gola in his No. 15 jersey holding a basketball over his head.
The ceremony took place before La Salle’s men’s basketball game against Drexel. The Explorers lost in overtime.
Among those in attendance for the ceremony was Gola’s widow, Caroline. The two lived on Kings Oak Road in Pine Valley.
“He’s here in spirit,” she said of her husband, who passed away in 2014 at age 81.
Others on hand included La Salle coach Fran Dunphy, who played for Gola when he coached the Explorers; university president Daniel Allen; and vice president for athletics and recreation Brian Baptiste, who called Gola “truly an all-around player.”
Dunphy was joined by some other members of the Gola-coached 1968-69 team that went 23-1 and was ranked second in the nation behind powerful UCLA. The Explorers were ineligible for postseason play because of rules violations committed before Gola arrived as coach. Larry Cannon, an Abraham Lincoln graduate, was a star on that team, but was unable to make the ceremony, as he lives in Florida.
“He was the perfect mentor for us,” Dunphy said of Gola.
Caroline recalled meeting the tall, good-looking man who would go on to become her husband in 1952 on the 25th Avenue beach in North Wildwood.
“He was a good man, an honest man and loving,” Caroline said.
Tom Gola grew up near 3rd Street and Lindley Avenue in Olney. He starred for the Incarnation of Our Lord CYO basketball team, then went on to La Salle High School, back when it was located in the city.
In his junior year at La Salle High, his team won the city championship by beating Overbrook.
Next, he went on to play at La Salle College, where he was a three-time All-American. In 1952, the 6-foot-6 guard/forward was the Co-Most Valuable Player as the Explorers defeated Dayton to win the NIT.
In 1954, he was named Outstanding Player as La Salle defeated Bradley for the NCAA title.
In his college career, he averaged 20.9 points and 18.7 rebounds per game. He holds the NCAA record for most rebounds with 2,201.
After his college days, he played in the NBA. As a rookie in 1956, he won a championship with the old Philadelphia Warriors. He played in five all-star games in a 10-year career before retiring at age 33 in 1966 as a member of the New York Knicks.
Later in 1966, he was elected as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. A Republican, he lived on Rennard Street in Somerton at the time. He was re-elected in 1968.
While serving as a state representative, he coached La Salle for two seasons.
In 1969, Gola, who studied accounting in college, ran for city controller and easily defeated Democratic lawyer Charles Peruto.
In 1973, Gola lost a re-election bid to Democrat Bill Klenk.
In 1980, Gola was active in Ronald Reagan’s successful presidential campaign. After Reagan took office, he named Gola as a regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Gola ran in the 1983 Republican primary for mayor, but finished third behind winner John Egan and runner-up Charlie Dougherty.
Gola is in numerous Halls of Fame: Northeast Philadelphia; the Naismith National Basketball; Archdiocese CYO; Polish; Madison Square Garden; Philadelphia Sports; and Big Five. He was also inducted into the inaugural class of the Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Legends.
La Salle named its gymnasium the Tom Gola Arena in 1998. His No. 15 jersey hangs from the rafters.
After the end of his political career, he became a successful businessman. He was executive vice president of Valley Forge Investment Corp. and on the board of Third Federal Bank. ••