Mr. All-Around by David Grzybowski

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Mr. All-Around
The Life of Tom Gola
by David Grzybowski
Temple University Press, 208 pp., hardcover $27.95

As a college senior in 2013, David Grzybowski interviewed La Salle basketball legend Tom Gola in what would become the basis for Mr. All-Around. Over the next several years, Grzybowski spoke to many of Gola’s teammates and family members, resulting in a very straightforward biography of an NBA pioneer. At La Salle, Gola led the Explorers to an NIT title and an NCAA title, and he still holds the NCAA record for rebounds in a career. After graduating from La Salle, the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors selected Gola in the 1955 collegiate draft and won the NBA title during his rookie season. Army service cost Gola his second year, although he returned to play nine more professional seasons, making five All-Star teams, before retiring in 1966. After his playing career ended, Gola served as a Pennsylvania state representative, Philadelphia city controller, and coach of his alma mater at La Salle.

Grzybowski traces Gola’s life from the perspective of those who experienced the events first-hand; however, Mr. All-Around could have highlighted his significance a little more clearly. For example, Gola participated in a basketball tour to Latin America in 1955 sponsored by the U.S. State Department to “combat Communism and promote democracy.” But why was Gola chosen? Was there any discernible effect on the fans or the players? Given that Gola was a well-known public figure at the height of the Cold War and the civil rights movement, more connection to the historical context would have been welcome.

Professionally, Gola was often overshadowed by NBA teammates Paul Arizin and Wilt Chamberlain. But Gola was undoubtedly one of the top college basketball players of all-time and deserving of his 1976 Hall of Fame nod. Basketball fans will certainly find much to enjoy in David Grzybowski’s Mr. All-Around, a long overdue biography of this Pennsylvania hoops icon.

Adam Criblez
Southeast Missouri State University