By Dan Wing

By Dan Wing

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The arena at La Salle University bears his name, and for good reason. Tom Gola was one of the greatest basketball players Philadelphia, and the world, has ever seen.

The former Hall of Fame player, coach, broadcaster, City Controller and State Representative passed away Sunday afternoon at the age of 81.

Gola was the star of La Salle’s NCAA and NIT championship teams of the 1950s, setting records that still stand today, by scoring more than 2,400 points and adding over 2,200 rebounds in his four year college career. He went on to have a phenomenal pro career, which earned him a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, before returning to La Salle to serve as head coach.

While Sonny Hill may carry the nickname “Mr. Basketball” in Philadelphia, he considers Tom Gola one of the best players he’s ever seen, but an even better person:

“Because he was willing to reach out during a time when negroes were not always welcome, but he understood brotherhood, he understood relationships, he understood people, and that’s why again he was able to walk with all man in reference to whatever he did and with utmost respect all the time.”

Hill says there was much more to Gola’s life than just hoops:

“It was about people and the fact that he used basketball as a vehicle to interact with people from all walks of life.”

Hill considers Gola second to only Wilt Chamberlain in terms of best players to come through the city, but an even better person and friend. Those same sentiments were echoed by KYW Newsradio special contributor Larry Kane:

“The fact that Philadelphians always respected him never really made his head big. He was more about helping people and just being a good person. I think before their was a great basketball star, there was a great human being there.”

Tom Gola is survived by his wife, Caroline, and his son, Thomas.