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Matt Guokas

Matthew George Guokas
Born November 11, 1915, Philadelphia
Died December 9, 1993, Flourtown, Pennsylvania, age 78

The first player signed by the Warriors franchise, Matt Guokas had been a Philadelphia favorite since his days as a star at St. Joseph’s College in the 1930s. An automobile accident ended his Basketball Association of America career after one season, but he became a radio and television personality whose cheerful nature and generosity made him a popular area fixture for more than 40 years after his playing days were over.

Matthew George Guokas was the oldest child of Lithuanian immigrants James and Petronella Guokas. Born May 12, 1915 in Philadelphia, he had a younger brother, Albert, who also had a brief career in professional basketball with Denver and Philadelphia in the NBA’s first season. Matt showed an interest in sports early in life, getting his first taste of pro sports as a water boy and groundskeeper for the NFL’s Frankford Yellow Jackets in the late 1920s.

He first achieved his own stardom as the standout center for the “Mighty Mites” of Roman Catholic High School. He was the sole person above six feet on the squad and his passing skills and scoring touch from the pivot earned him a great deal of attention. He stayed in town to attend St. Joseph’s along with two of his Roman Catholic teammates and the Mighty Mites nickname traveled with them.

Guokas continued to excel in college, leading the team in scoring as a freshman. While the Hawks were only a middling squad during his tenure, they were noted for their scrappy play and considered not to be above a few dirty tricks to even the odds against their taller opponents. Injuries slowed him down during his sophomore season, but he rebounded to earn All-America notice his junior and senior years.

After graduating in 1938, he took a variety of jobs in basketball to earn a living. While coaching the Roman Catholic team he played in a number of pro and semi-pro leagues, spending time with Pottstown and Reading in the Pennsylvania Tri-County League and with Brooklyn and Wilkes-Barre of the American Basketball League, one of the top regional loops in the country.

In 1940, with war approaching, Guokas resigned from his coaching position and took a job with SKF, a Swedish-owned roller bearing manufacturer and played for their team in an industrial league, alongside his brother Al. By 1942, still working for SKF, he had married his wife, Joan, had returned to the ABL with Trenton, and had a new daughter, Mary. Two years later, his son, Matt, Jr., was born and would eventually go on to play ten NBA seasons and spend nine more as an assistant and head coach in the league.

In 1945, Uncle Sam came calling and Guokas was inducted into the army, shortly before hostilities ended. Within a year he had made staff sergeant and would coach his Ft. Lewis team to a service league championship.

In 1946, a group of arena owners in the East and Midwest formed a new professional league, the Basketball Association of America, and the Philadelphia Warriors made the now-discharged Guokas their first signing, probably hoping to trade on his local popularity. The 30-year-old was past his prime at this point, spending most of the season under coach Eddie Gottlieb at the far end of the bench and attaining a season high nine points twice, in games against Toronto and Detroit.

He appeared in eight of the team’s ten playoff games on the way to the BAA’s first championship, but soon after the season’s end, on June 23, his career came to a shocking and tragic end. Riding as a passenger in a car in the early morning hours near Camden, New Jersey, he was involved in a major collision that severely damaged his left leg. Suffering multiple compound fractures of the limb, he underwent several blood transfusions and was near death at several points. The doctors did what they could to try to save the leg, but on the 27th, they were forced to amputate it above the knee, ending his playing days for good.

He spent several weeks in the hospital recuperating, but by all accounts, he accepted his fate with equanimity and good humor. After his convalescence, he stayed in basketball, taking a job as head coach of the Lancaster entry in the Eastern Pennsylvania Professional Basketball League. That same year, 1948, he joined WPEN radio in Philadelphia and was soon named the station’s sports director, a post he would hold for 18 years. As television became more popular he would add telecasts on WFIL to his resume. By 1950 he was president of the Philadelphia Basketball Writers Association and in 1951 he became the public address announcer for the NFL’s Eagles at Franklin Field and later served the same role for the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium.

Immensely popular among area sports figures and the public alike, he continued his broadcasting career into the late 1960s and remained the Eagles PA man until 1985. In the 1970s, as he entered his 60s, he began to slow down professionally and receive some of the lifetime honors his career had earned him, being named to the St. Joseph’s and Pennsylvania Sports Halls of Fame. He was slowed further by a heart attack in 1979 and he began to miss more time from his Eagles job in the early 1980s due to health problems.

After retiring from the Eagles, he settled down to enjoy some quiet time with family. The end came in 1993 after suffering a hip fracture in June. He gamely held on for months, but he and his wife both knew what was coming and he finally succumbed on December 9. He left behind Joan, his two children, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

matt_guokas.txt · Last modified: 2023/10/29 02:55 by ehaight