A couple months ago, I witnessed some “off the court” dribbling that gave Billy as much joy as his on-court exploits.
My neighbor Billy Berris knows a thing or two about dribbling; after all, basketball has been an integral part of his life. Both he and his father, Henry Berris, of blessed memory, had stellar high school and college basketball careers.
Henry was a standout at Northern High School in Detroit in the early 1930s and Billy at Mumford in the late ’60s, each going on to star at Wayne State University. Plus, Billy enjoyed a great run for the U.S. Team during the World Maccabi Games in Israel in 1993, 1997 and 2001.
Henry and Billy’s hoop legacies were forever secured with their induction into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1990 and 2002, respectively.
A couple months ago, I witnessed some “off the court” dribbling that gave Billy, 72, as much joy as his on-court exploits. It involved his great- nephew Brooks, who, at just 6-months old, is a great “dribbler” in his own right.
Due to a last-minute change in their babysitting plans, Billy’s nephew, Michael Berris, and his wife, Kate, were faced with altering their alone-time holiday weekend getaway. That’s when Billy, who was used to being a starter in basketball, stepped up and came off the babysitting bench to save the day.
Limited to who they could leave their only child with for the very first time, Michael told me, “Billy offered the capability and flexibility for us to ask and the willingness and excitement to say yes.”
“Without hesitating, I told them I would watch Brooks and cancel my Memorial Day weekend plans,” Billy said, “I was very excited about giving Michael and Kate a well-deserved mini-vacation.”
Brooks was dropped off on Friday, May 28, with a two-page note of meticulous instructions from Kate, who Billy said “was understandably worried about separation anxiety, both for her and Brooks.”
Billy quickly put her at ease. “From the moment we dropped Brooks off, Billy began sending FaceTimes and video updates,” Kate said. “We didn’t ask him to do that; it was unprompted but very welcome and very cute.”
Dad Michael said, “We were able to witness the interactions between Billy and Brooks through the play-by-play texts, pictures and movies that were sent. It was incredibly heartwarming to see the connection and bond they created.”
I was even on the receiving end of some very endearing texts from Billy. “Today’s the day. Brooks will be here soon!” an exuberant Billy messaged me on the Friday morning Brooks was being dropped off.
Saturday morning brought another Billy Berris text: “Good morning, Alan, I wanted you to know all is well. I woke Brooks up at 7:30, changed his diaper, and just now feeding him and getting ready for a fun play day.
“Last night at 10:45, he woke up crying,” continued Billy’s babysitting briefing. He told how he picked Brooks up and played his favorite song, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ and then put him back in his crib. He was asleep five minutes later.
Many Photos, Texts
A series of 15 precious photos accompanied those text messages, many showing Billy and baby Brooks outfitted in Detroit Pistons Bad Boys T-shirts, made famous by the team’s championship runs in the late ’80s.
The Bad Boys image is Billy’s other “baby.” In 1988, Berris, as president of Athletic Supporter, Ltd., a silkscreen T-shirt company, created the “Bad Boys” logo that personified the hard-nosed style of play of the Detroit Pistons. The brand still remains among the most popular in Detroit sports team merchandising.
Michael and Kate had every confidence in Billy handling his four-day weekend babysitting gig, more so than his siblings. “Billy, make sure you get help, you’re going to need it,” Billy told me his sister Jan and brother Ronnie warned.
“I was never worried,” Billy said. “Actually, I was happy to have him all to myself.
“Brooks gets all the credit — he made it easy,” Billy added. “It brought back memories of my son Jeffrey when he was 6 months old — of the fun, joy and happiness I had talking baby-talk, singing silly songs and making faces, especially when diverting Jeffrey’s attention when I changed his diaper.” Billy went so far as to tell me he remembered the importance of having a certain part pointing down when changing a baby boy’s diaper.
Speaking of which, I couldn’t resist having some fun at the expense of my 72-year-old senior citizen neighbor and babysitting understudy, asking him at one point over the weekend whose diaper he had to change more, his or Brooks.
Billy said his weekend with Brooks was among the “happiest four days of my life,” sentiments he shared in a beautiful note titled “Weekend at Billy’s” that he emailed to Michael within hours of Brooks being picked up.
The message will be forwarded to a special email address that has already been set up for Brooks by his parents.
“The plan,” said Kate, “is to give Brooks the password to the email address around the time of his bar mitzvah to let him read all the little memories people have shared over the years.”
Something tells me that Brooks will consider Great- Uncle Billy’s note among his favorite bar mitzvah gifts. That and perhaps a new, larger sized Bad Boys T-Shirt.