Pistons pay tribute to late G League player Zeke Upshaw with honorary NBA call-up

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Zeke Upshaw of the Grand Rapids Drive high-fives coaches and teammates during a game on March 23, 2018. Upshaw collapsed on the court late in Saturday’s game against the Long Island Nets. He died in the hospital on Monday morning. He was 26. (Getty)
Zeke Upshaw of the Grand Rapids Drive high-fives coaches and teammates during a game on March 23, 2018. Upshaw collapsed on the court late in Saturday’s game against the Long Island Nets. He died in the hospital on Monday morning. He was 26. (Getty)

Before their Thursday night meeting with the Washington Wizards, the Detroit Pistons made a roster move, paying tribute to the memory of the late Zeke Upshaw by ceremonially calling him up from the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive three days after his tragic death at age 26.

Upshaw, a 6-foot-6 swingman who had played college basketball at Illinois State and Hofstra before spending a couple of seasons playing in Europe, was standing on the court in the final minute of the March 24 game between Grand Rapids and the Long Island Nets, the G League affiliate of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, before he collapsed to the floor. Medical personnel took him off the court on a stretcher and to a local hospital. He died Monday morning. An autopsy revealed “cardiac abnormalities” in Upshaw’s “slightly enlarged” heart, according to Kent County medical examiner Dr. Stephen Cole, who said Upshaw suffered “sudden cardiac death” after his collapse.

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Upshaw spent two years with Grand Rapids in the Pistons organization, but never made it up to the big club. This seemed like a fitting way to honor his memory, according to team general manager Jeff Bower.

“Zeke was a special player for the Grand Rapids Drive and as the G League affiliate for our organization, many of our staffers had the opportunity to spend time with this terrific young man,” Bower said in a team statement announcing the honorary move. “His spirit and commitment on and off the court embodied all the traits we look for in players who suit up for the Detroit Pistons. As we look to memorialize Zeke’s basketball career and continue to support his family during this tragically difficult time, executing an honorary call-up recognizes his standing as a member of the Pistons family.”

Upshaw’s Grand Rapids teammates must soldier on without him, heading to Canada to take on Raptors 905 for the first game in the G League playoffs on Friday night.

“We have just grown closer, through the excitement and energy that Zeke brought to the team,” point guard Ken “Speedy” Smith told Peter J. Wallner of MLive.com. “So, we think of Zeke and smile knowing the passion and love he had for basketball. And we’ll carry that forward.”

A memorial service for Upshaw will be held Saturday morning in his native Chicago.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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