Mother Sues the NBA, Pistons, and Others after Her Son Died During a Game

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In the final minute of a game on March 24, 2018, Zeke Upshaw was playing for the Detroit Pistons’ minor-league affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, when he suddenly collapsed on the court and later died. An autopsy of the then 26-year-old basketball player revealed that Upshaw suffered a “Sudden Cardiac Death” (SCD). Now Upshaw’s mother is suing on her sons behalf. According to a statement from the lawyers representing Upshaw’s mother, “Upshaw crumpled face-down on the court in full cardiac arrest. Despite this undeniable dire situation, no life-saving measures were attempted, no CPR was initiated and no defibrillator was used.”

During the March 24, 2018 game, Upshaw was defending his player man-to-man, then suddenly, untouched, Upshaw collapsed to the floor. He laid where he fell, unmoving, face-down on the court. His arms were twisted in the awkward, unnatural position, as occurs when the limbs of an unconscious person fall with the body to the ground. Upshaw did not move and he did not use his arms to protect or break the fall. Upshaw’s heart had stopped, and at that moment, it was imperative that emergency lifesaving treatment began immediately. However, no help came.

According to the complaint, “there exists a tragic secret inside the NBA: the well-known and serious risk to the league’s young stars suffering [from SCD] during a game.” The NBA allegedly knew about the risk of SCD since 1993 when NBA star Reggie Lewis suffered a SCD on the basketball court at an off-season practice at the age of 27. In addition, the NBA was allegedly aware of “many similar and tragic sudden cardiac events resulting in SCD suffered by seemingly healthy athletes while playing at all levels of organized basketball.” According to the complaint, despite being aware of the risks of SCD, the NBA failed to adequately prepare for and protect its players. “The NBA’s policy is startlingly poor, and its every day preparation and enforcement during the long basketball season, at every level of team play, for every single team, and every individual player is dangerous, life-threatening, haphazard, and inconsistent.”

According to Upshaw’s mother, the team doctor “had stepped out” before the end of the basketball game and was not present nor available at the time of the incident. According to the complaint, as Upshaw’s body remained motionless on the court and there was no sense of urgency; instead, there was “uncertainty, indecisiveness, and a complete and utter lack of appreciation of the severity of the moment.” For nearly four minutes, medical staff and personal moved around Upshaw’s body, but CPR was not initiated, no chest compressions were started, no oxygen mask was placed on his nose and mouth, no airway was cleared and secured, and no defibrillator sensors and electric delivery patches were attached and secured to his body. Upshaw was later taken to the hospital, but by the time he arrived, he had already went without oxygen for approximately forty-four minutes.

On May 30, 2018, Upshaw’s mother sued the NBA, the Detroit Pistons, the owners of the arena where the incident occurred, and a group of Pistons investors for negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful death. Upshaw’s mother said, “[a]s heartbroken as I am, I just want for the next occurrence that may happen to some other kid on the court, for the response to be immediate.”


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