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

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.

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.”

See Upshaw through his basketball career: 

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NBA G-League player Zeke Upshaw
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NBA G-League player Zeke Upshaw
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - NOVEMBER 3: Zeke Upshaw #13 of the Grand Rapids Drive poses for a head shot during the NBA D-League media day on November 3, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Dennis Slagle/NBAE via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - NOVEMBER 20: Zeke Upshaw #13 of the Grand Rapids Drive makes a 3-point shot against the Maine Red Claws on November 20, 2016 at the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Rich Obrey/NBAE via Getty Images)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - DECEMBER 23: Zeke Upshaw #13 of the Grand Rapids Drive looks to pass the ball against the Maine Red Claws at the DeltaPlex Arena on December 23, 2016 in Walker, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Allison Farrand/NBAE via Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - DECEMBER 22: Zeke Upshaw #13 of the Grand Rapids Drive shoots a foul shot against the Long Island Nets during an NBA D-League game on December 22, 2016 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - OCTOBER 26: Zeke Upshaw #3 of the Grand Rapids Drive poses for a head shot during the NBA G-League media day at the DeltaPlex Arena on October 26, 2017 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Dennis Slagle/NBAE via Getty Images)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - DECEMBER 23: Zeke Upshaw #13 of the Grand Rapids Drive goes up for a rebound against the Maine Red Claws at the DeltaPlex Arena on December 23, 2016 in Walker, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Allison Farrand/NBAE via Getty Images)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - MARCH 23: Zeke Upshaw #0 of the Grand Rapids Drive during the game against the Greensboro Swarm at the DeltaPlex Arena on March 23, 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Dennis Slagle/NBAE via Getty Images)
LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Zeke Upshaw #0 of the Grand Rapids Drive shoots the ball during the game against the Lakeland Magic on February 24, 2018 at RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
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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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