He said then that it was his last run for office, but there he was in the glare of the Garden renewing friendships with old La Salle classmates who still stand in awe of the Tom Gola legend.
But when he became engrossed in whispers with Bill Bradley, the U.S. senator from New Jersey and a basketball legend himself, you wondered if Tommy Gola just might be cranking up for one more mayoral run.
However, Thomas Joseph Gola, at 54, swore - on La Salle's chances against Mississippi Southern - that he had no desire to seek office again.
"Me run again?" he asked. "My legs are gone and my hair's turning gray. If I had any idea of running again, I'd have to have my hair dyed and join a health spa.
"I'm over the hill. The Republican Party in Philadelphia is a young man's party now - Denny O'Brien, Brian O'Neill, Fran Westen, John Egan.
"I'm an Old Guard - along with Arlen Specter and Thacher Longstreth. but there's one difference. Arlen's got it and Thacher still wants it. But I don't."
There was talk in the Garden that Tom Gola would, indeed, throw up the first ball in the championship game, but he scotched the rumor.
"I'm just here to root for La Salle," he said. "so you'll know, the first ball will be thrown up by the president of Mississippi Southern, the gentleman over there wearing that Thacher Longstreth bow tie.
"But I've got a scoop for you. Brother Pat Ellis, the president of La Salle, is going to sing the National Anthem. He's practicing over a couple of drinks in an Irish bar on Eighth Avenue right now."
Brother Pat Ellis did sing the National Anthem to open the title game. And the president of Mississippi Southern, wearing a natty bow tie, did throw up the first ball. And when he did, the air seemed to go out of it as far as La Salle was concerned.
La Salle's great touch with the vital three-point shots that propelled the Explorers into the NIT finals was sorely missing in the championship game. And, worse yet, Mississippi Southern was devastating from three-point range, scorching the nets with ease and stunning regularity.
La Salle was forced to play catchup all night long, but, somehow, was still in the game - and in possession of the ball - with seconds to play.
Down by two, the Explorers might have tied it on a field goal or won it on a three-point play, but a botched La Salle pass fell into the hands of a Mississippi defender, writing a bitter ending to La Salle's last, brave thrust for a second NIT title.
The last second fritz shattered the hopes of many a La Salle alum across the Delaware Valley, especially a dozen or so Old Grads who gathered in black tie in the Men's Grill at the Aronimink Golf Club in Delaware County, to watch the game on television over a feast by candlelight.
They were on their feet at the end, glasses raised for a winning toast, but when the Explorers lost the ball, several of the Old Grads, including Jack Augusterfer, the mechanical contractor and a classmate of Tommy Gola at La Salle, spilled wine on their ruffled formal shirts.
"You never know," Tom Gola said at the Garden, "you never know."
I suggested that the dashing of La Salle's hopes for another NIT title was, in a way, comparable to the long-standing plight and frustration of the outnumbered Republican Party in Philadelphia.
''Well," said Tommy Gola, once a most promising Republican hopeful, ''the R's don't have the numbers, that's for sure. But remember, Philadelphia is an ethnic town - and the numbers don't always come out the way they look.
"That's why I think that the R's might have a chance this time - the best chance they've had in years. If Frank Rizzo wins the Republican primary, I think the R's will have a real good shot in November."
"You don't sound too sure that Rizzo will win the primary," I said.
Tommy Gola laughed.
"Listen," he said, "if Rizzo doesn't win the Republican primary, he'll have to move to Italy."
The basketball season in Philadelphia was ended, but the political season was just getting started.