Six Feet of Loyalty

Joseph Grillo died on September 11, 2001 searching for people on the 64th floor of the World Trade Center when it collapsed.

He called himself Jumping Joe. He was six-feet even, but bite your tongue if you think that is short for a basketball player. How tall do you think Allen Iverson is?

Joseph Grillo, as his wife, Mary Jo, put it, “was a maniac basketball player.” He played three times a week, with friends from Brooklyn on Friday and with a group on Staten Island called the Staten Island Basketball League, where he lived, on Wednesday and Saturday.

He played hard. He played exceptionally well. He would not stop, even as the game gnawed at his 46-year-old body. “It took his knees, his ankles, his wrists,” his wife said. “But he loved it so much.”

Mrs. Grillo supported his commitment, though she established certain fouls of her own. He wanted to play on their wedding day. Forget that. The Saturday game took place in the morning, and the men liked to return home and collapse on the couch. “A lot of them slept all day,” Mrs. Grillo said. She made it clear that he had to do things with her and the two boys. So he would have a hearty lunch and keep his eyes open.

Another thing about Mr. Grillo, a risk finance analyst for the Port Authority, was that he was intensely loyal to a wide network of friends. He was great at listening to their problems. “He was aware of whose wife had breast cancer, whose kid was giving his parents a hard time,” Mrs. Grillo said. “I heard from so many people, ‘Oh, I had just talked to Joe the week before,’ ‘I just talked to Joe the day before.’ I started to wonder, ‘Did he ever do any work?’ “

The eulogy for Joe was given by Craig Raucher the Commissioner of the legendary Staten Island Basketball League to an overflowing crowd of people at Holy Child Church on Staten island. Noted in the eulogy Raucher said that “pound for pound Joe was the greatest“ player to walk through our doors in the 38 plus year history.

Some weeks later a tree was planted in Joes honor at Staten Islands famed Snug Harbor Botanical Gardens by the Staten Island Basketball League and Joe was honored in a ceremony preceding the planting. A plaque honoring Joe was placed in front of a newly planted white dove tree in his honor saying “This tree is a memorial for Joe Grillo a great basketball player but a better man” The tree is located in a section called the Chinese Scholars Garden one of the most beautiful areas on the grounds.