By Brian Taylor
It was the summer of 1992 in the D.C. area, and I was lucky enough to be one of the kids to attend John Thompson’s annual basketball camp. One day we had a rest period in between practice sessions and we all gathered around the big screen to watch David Stern’s Powerball (a.k.a. the NBA Draft). This draft was one of the biggest and most interesting, because G-Town’s own Alonzo Mourning was expected to go behind the grand prize that year, Shaquille O’Neal.
When Zo’s name was called, we all gave high-fives with each other and the coaching staff, but there were a few of us who waited to see what the Bullets’ train-wreck pick was going to be (lately, our draft picks either got injured, didn’t even make the team, or were named “LaBradford Smith”). At the sixth pick of the draft, from North Carolina State, Stern pulls out a name he can hardly pronounce. Tom Gugliotta.
“Tom Gugliotta? Tom Goooooogliotta?”
I knew I could kiss the playoffs goodbye for yet another year, but in reality, Tom turned out to be a pretty good player.
Back at Carolina State, Tom was a beast, in an ACC that had Walt Williams and Christian Laettner (who went 3rd in 1992, hindsight is 20/20 ain’t it?). Even though he started as a scrawny freshman, Jim Valvano saw he was going to not just be good, but great.
After getting picked up by the Bullets (Wes Unseld could hardly pronounce his name), “Googs” immediately made an impact, drawing the inevitable comparisons to Larry Bird (Jordan actually said this to him in their first meeting). In a home game against Karl Malone’s Jazz, Gugliotta lit up the Mailman for 43 points. Pretty soon, with “Never Healthy” Pervis Ellison shelved, Gugliotta took control of the team, even turning away Bernard King from a Bullets’ practice.
All the good stuff changed for Googs in 1995, when the Bullets facing pressure from management traded Tom to the Golden State Warriors for manchild Chris Webber, who’d been having problems in Oakland. Tom was crushed as he realized the NBA was a business, and that loyalty didn’t have much value. In the Bullets’ first game after the trade, Tom went nuts and the Warriors won, with Webber getting injured (and booed) in the process.
Another trade that same season landed Gugliotta in Minnesota, with a young Kevin Garnett. It was in the Twin Cities that Tom got his due as an NBA’er, making the All-Star team in 1997. Immediately after his All-Star appearance, the Wolves shipped him to Phoenix, to team up with Jason Kidd. It was in Phoenix that Gugliotta got a wake up call about his health.
December 17th, 1999. Tom wasn’t able to get any shuteye after games, so he turned to a sleeping aid to help him get some Z’s. After taking the GBLs to help him relax, Googs got on the phone with his wife and college sweetheart. It was in mid conversation that Tom collapsed, prompting his wife to call Rex Champan’s wife to get help. Rex Champan found an antidote in Gugliotta’s Suns issued gym bag, which helped doctors save his life.
After his time in the desert, Gugliotta went on to fill a blue-collar role with the Jazz, Hawks and Celtics before calling it a career in 1995.