Born: January 13, 1933
Died: January 26, 2014
Position: Shooting Guard and Small Forward
Philadelphia Warriors (NBA): 1955-’62
San Francisco Warriors (NBA): 1962
New York Knicks (NBA): 1962-’66
Few players come as versatile as Tom Gola who received the nickname “Mount All-Around” for his jack of all trades capabilities. A native of Philadelphia, Gola was a territorial draft pick of the hometown Warriors in 1955 after a stellar college career at LaSalle. He remains one of only two players in NCAA history to amass 2000+ points and 2000+ rebounds in a collegiate career.
Gola arrived in the nick of time. The team featured the best one-two scoring punch the NBA had yet seen in small forward Paul Arizin and center Neil Johnston. The Warriors also had a fine garbage and hustle man in power forward Joe Graboski, and a really good point guard in Jack George. But what they lacked was a player who could congeal and meld all of this talent into a cohesive flawless unit.
Enter Mount All-Around.
In his rookie season of 1955-56 Gola averaged 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. He was spry, he was loose, he was every where. His jump shot was beautiful. He was a fantastic rebounder who was quick to get off his feet. Even his average basketball height of 6’6″ helped reinforce just how all-around his game could be, but also just how unassuming he could be:
“I have never seen an athlete with better reflexes or one who is less affected by tension,” said Mario Vetere, LaSalle’s trainer. “He can put his head on the pillow a few hours before a championship game, immediately fall asleep and awaken refreshed.”
The super-talented Gola was hardly perturbed by anything and expected to put in his due work like everyone else. The hot shot rookie who had won nearly every possible college award, subsumed and meshed his game into that 1956 Warriors squad. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors completed the season with a league-best 45-27 record and then captured the title.
Sadly, this incarnation of the Warriors wouldn’t be a perennial contender. Gola was drafted into the military and missed the 1957 season. When he returned in 1958 Johnston had wreaked his knee and was on the way out of the league. Nonetheless, help arrived in 1960 in the form of Wilt Chamberlain to re-establish the Warriors as an NBA powerhouse.
As time chugged on, Gola became a yearly all-star and continued performing his all-around duties for the Warriors averaging about 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists through the 1962 season. In addition to the calculated stats, Gola had the routine assignment of guarding other teams’ best offensive forwards and guards.
The Warriors best chance to capture another NBA title came in the 1962 season. Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points that season. Paul Arizin still scored over 20 points per game. Gola, Al Atlles, Guy Rodgers, and Tom Mescherey were a quartet of supremely abled backup men.
Gola appeared in just four of the seven games Philly played against Boston in the Eastern Division Finals and struggled in three of those contests. In Game 7, Gola rose to the ocassion with 16 points – easily his best performance of that postseason. However, the Celtics eked out a two-point victory to advance to the NBA Finals. The loss spelled the end of the Philadelphia Warriors as the team left Pennsylvania and moved to San Francisco.
The native Philadelphian Gola wasn’t enthused with the move and requested a trade back east. The Warriors obliged and after just 21 games he was headed to the New York Knicks. In 3.5 seasons with the Knicks, Gola was twice more an all-star before retiring in 1966. All the while, he commuted to Knicks games in NYC from his Philadelphia home.
That subdued, unassuming quality was what made Gola a gentleman and community leader in Philadelphia off the court, and it’s what made him the willing and able all-around servant to his teammates on it. With Tom Gola you never came away overwhelmed with one single facet, it was the complete total package that kept you mesmerized.
All-NBA 2nd Team (1958)
5x All-Star (1960-’64)
Regular Season Career Averages (698 games):
Playoff Career Averages (39 games):