JOSEPH ELLIOTT BELMONT AKA: "Little Weasel", "Houdini of the Hardwood", "Joe Bananas"
July 12, 1934- January 6, 2019 (84 years)
Born July 12, 1934 in Philadelphia, PA to Principio Giuseppe Belmondo and Edna Belmondo
He was the eldest of four siblings: Raymond (deceased), Ronald (deceased), and Lois
He married Helen Merriam Sanquist on June 20, 1959. He was married until her untimely passing on August 18, 1994 of pancreatic cancer.
Father of two: Kent Michael Belmont and Leslie Jo Belmont
Proud Grandfather of three: Zachary Joseph Belmont, Shea Michael Belmont (deceased), and Zoe Mirriam Belmont.
Friend of Sally Hopper since the beginning of 2010.
Joe Belmont was one of a kind. He dedicated his life to his two loves: basketball and family. He lived, loved, played, and laughed like no other.
He started out developing his basketball skills playing pick up games on the tough streets of Philly as a kid. He joined The Beacon church League (first organized team) and then played at Penn Treaty Jr. High School.
He began honing his skills at Northeast High School with Coach Albert “Ike” Wooley. As a senior, he was named the number one player in the Public High School League. As the city’s leading scorer in 1951 & 1952, he was awarded the William H. Markward Memorial Most Valuable Player Award. An award highly respected by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
He received more than 50 scholarship offers from major Universities around the country. He ended up choosing Duke University where he enjoyed a stellar four-year collegiate career from 1953-1956.
Accolades at Duke include:
Co-Captain of Blue Devils 1954-1955 and 1955-1956
All American Honors 1955-1956
Most Valuable Player Award – senior year 1956
All ACC player 1954-1955 and 1955-1956
He lettered (Varsity “D”) All four years
Graduated Duke as the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 1338 points in 103 games, second only to Dick Groat.
Belmont was a high draft choice in the NBA in 1956. He was offered an attractive contract from The Philadelphia Warriors which he subsequently turned down to remain at Duke for another year and mentor/coach the freshman basketball team. He could not get enough of Duke Ball!
The D-C Trucking Company owned /sponsored a team in the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL) called the D-C Truckers. They recruited him, so he made the move to Denver, and never left.
During his time playing for the Truckers, the 5’11” 165 lb. “little nervous guy” became known as “Houdini of the Hardwood”. They say he appeared to be using mirrors when he threaded impossible passes to his teammates. But Joe was the first to assure any and all that there is no magic mixed up in his basketball game. He said, “It’s just a matter of adjusting. Last year I threw away a lot of passes. This year they’ve been hitting. It’s all in getting used to me. I’ll admit the guys had to adjust to me”. Chuck Garrity, a Denver Post Sports Writer wrote, “If Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts football team is considered unorthodox, there’s no word to describe Belmont”.
In 1961-1962, Joe gained all-league and ASU All American honors. As the “littlest Trucker” it was said that “he is without doubt the greatest guard the Truckers have ever had. He also played in more games than any other Trucker in the history of the squad.
When the DC Trucker Team fizzled, most of the players remained in the trucking business and migrated back to their hometowns, but Joe stayed put. He took a hybrid job as a Scout and a Ticket Salesman (Official title was Director of Marketing) for the fledgling Denver Rockets Professional Basketball Team (later to become the Nuggets). A year later, on December 9, 1969 he became the head coach – stepping in for a fired John McClendon. They lost the first game, then won 15 in a row! He finished out that season going 42-14 as coach, with an overall mark of 51-33 to win the ABA Western Division. He was awarded coach of the year for that season.
The Rockets lost in the second round of the playoffs, and after a tough start in the subsequent season, his regular-season winning percentage of .652 (45-24) was the highest of any of Denver’s Professional Basketball Teams – ever. Today, he is ranked 6th out of 56 for the coach with the most wins as per the ABA Coach Register.
Officiating was Joe’s passion. He knew the game inside and out, and generally got the calls right. His love of the game brought out the best in him. His 25-year officiating career began with High School Games, Little League, and City and Summer Leagues. He joined the officiating staff of the ABA and quickly became one of their top referees, working the first All-Star game in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Joe spent most of the rest of his career managing a Ferrari Dealership, selling cars, while continuing to officiate games in the Western Athletic Conference until the end of 1984.
After losing his wife, Helen, in the early 90’s, he underwent six-way bypass surgery. He was quoted as saying, “I’ve had a good life and I still have some time left”
He was right!
In 2004, his one and only granddaughter was born, and became the light of his life. He was 70 when she was born. He loved teaching her about the world, and he got up at 4am, every day to watch “The Little Mermaid” with her.
In 2005 he was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame
In 2007 he was inducted into the City All Star Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2010 he befriended Sally Hopper, and they spent almost every day together.
Joe Belmont was one of a kind. He loved to teach people who wanted to learn either the in’s and outs of basketball, how to sell a car, or what unconditional love is all about.
He will be missed by many. May you rest in peace.
Donations may be made in memory of Joe Belmont to St. James Episcopal Church. When you log on to their website (www.sjwr.org), go to Giving to St. James, then click the button that says JOE BELMONT MEMORIAL FUND.