La Salle legend, Hall of Famer Tom Gola dies at 81

One of the best college basketball players of all time, Tom Gola, died on Sunday. La Salle, Gola's alma mater, confirmed his death after initial media reports spread word Sunday night.

Gola was 81.

"Every person connected with La Salle basketball for over a 60 year span has held his friendship and leadership as a blessing they could always count on," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "Our deepest sympathies go to Caroline. Our community will forever hold the Gola name as synonymous with greatness."

The all-time leader in rebounds in college hoops history (2,201), Gola was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. He was a four-time All-American, winning the player of the year award in 1955. He took La Salle to the 1952 NIT title and the NCAA championship in '54. The team was runner-up to the national title in 1955. He remains only one of two players (Joe Holup of George Washington) in D-I college hoops history to score more than 2,000 points (2,461 in total) and grab more than 2,000 rebounds.

Gola, a five-time NBA All-Star, played 11 years in the pros, winning a world title with the Philadelphia Warriors in his rookie season of 1955-56. He is only one of two men to ever win an NCAA, NIT and NBA title.

"Tom was a Philadelphia icon whose name is synonymous with basketball," La Salle president Michael J. McGinniss said in a statement.

La Salle went 102-19 over the course of Gola's playing career and was coached by the man from 1968-70. The 1968-69 team lost only one game; many local basketball fans consider it the best college basketball team ever to come from Philadelphia. La Salle's home arena was named after him in 1998.

After retiring from basketball work altogether, Gola was a member in the Pennsylvania State House.

"Tom Gola was a Philadelphia icon and a treasure for La Salle. His contributions as a player and coach provided La Salle with a true national profile," Tom Brennan, Explorers athletic director, said in a statement. "Tom's athletic accomplishments and athletic career were second to none."

Gola is survived by his wife, Caroline, whom he married in 1955.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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