COVID-19 crisis strikes close to home for Pistons GT standout Ramo Radoncic

By Vince Ellis
Special to

In the COVID-19 fight, New York City is Ground Zero.

The disease that’s killed thousands of Americans and tanked the world’s economy because of restrictive social distancing measures has hit the country’s largest municipality particularly hard.

As of Friday morning, New York reported more than 170,000 cases and 14,000 confirmed deaths.
More than 43,000 needed hospital care and were later released.

One of those patients is the father of Ramo Radoncic, the Pistons Gaming Team standout.

Radoncic, a son of the New York, revealed the news that his father tested positive on social media in early April, roughly six weeks before Pistons GT opens its 2020 NBA 2K League schedule on May 19 against Wizards District Gaming.

Radoncic happily reports his father, a bar owner in the New York City area, is OK.

As he wrote on Twitter, he’s not close with his father, but the experience has given him wisdom.
“Since the virus, I’ve been trying to keep in touch with him – kind of forget about the past and just worry about the future, the present,” Radoncic told last week.

“Life is too short to hold grudges.”

But in the gaming community, while there are no grudges, it’s always a proving ground.

After leading Pistons GT to the playoffs in the league’s inaugural season in 2018, Radoncic was traded to Pacers Gaming.

Pistons GT cratered to a last-place finish; Radoncic led the Pacers to the playoffs.

General manager Adam Rubin decided to reclaim Radoncic, trading for one of the league’s best players before the February draft.

Can Radoncic make it 3-for-3 in personal playoff appearances and lead Pistons GT back to the playoffs in the league’s third season?

“Ramo has a little bit of a thing to prove because he’s been on two different teams and brought us and the Pacers last year to the playoffs,” Rubin said. “He’s now trying to prove he’s the difference-maker and show he can do it a third time.”

The road to 2-14

Radoncic was perfect for Pistons GT during the first season.

The trash-talking big man was the franchise’s first-round pick in the league’s first draft, fifth overall.

With a code name of “Ramo,” the power forward was ninth in scoring (20.1 points per game), third in rebounding (10.8), 12th in steals (2.1), eighth in blocked shots (1.7) and third in field goal percentage (70.6%).

Radoncic was an MVP candidate and Pistons GT finished with a 9-5 record before losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Now, a little about game play.

In seeking to create a marketing avenue to the millions of gamers who play the game worldwide, the NBA announced the venture in 2017.

The initial season featured 17 franchises; the league has expanded to 23 teams for the current season, which began May 5.

Long gone are the days of friends gathering around a TV to play one-on-one with full control of five players. The league features a 5-on-5, full-court game played online.

Players donning headsets communicate – loudly – to teammates during games to deploy defensive schemes and set up offensive plays.

A draft is held where players are selected from a pool of the top NBA2K players in the world.

Teams are six players. First-round picks sign six-month contracts worth $35,000; other picks make $33,000. Holdover players make $37,000.

But after that first season, Pistons GT traded Radoncic to the Pacers.

Rubin said a major reason was NBA 2K19 game play was more advantageous for perimeter players. That’s a yearly call by game developer Take-Two Interactive.

Radoncic admits that he was bothered.

“It’s a business,” he said. “You gotta do what helps your team and at that point in time, they thought that would help their team in the long run the way 2K19 was headed. At first I was mad, but after while, I understand it completely.”

The Pacers finished 10-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs; Radoncic was among the league leaders in scoring, rebounds and assists.

Pistons GT cratered to 2-14.

At one point, Pistons GT lost 13 matches in a row before winning the season finale.

There were losses by 41, 34, 25 and 22 points.

A lot went wrong. Rubin and coach Duane Burton, who was voted coach of the year in the inaugural season, decided to reconfigure the roster.

The seeds for a potential reunion were sown when Radoncic admittedly didn’t take to his surroundings with the Pacers.

Pistons GT traded the fourth overall pick to Pacers GT for Radoncic. A swap of second rounders was also part of the deal, but the return of Radoncic was the highlight.

Radoncic was stunned at first, but was happy to return.

“In Season 1, I was new to the city and didn’t really know how to hold myself as a professional and Adam taught me how to be one,” Radoncic said.

New beginning with Pistons GT

Things have changed since that first season.

Team members have traded a cramped room at The Palace during the first season for a spacious spot with a view at the Pistons Performance Center, which opened in the New Center area last fall.

Things changed even more March 23 when Gov. Whitmer issued a stay-at home order that continues.

The team was scheduled to fly to New York that day to begin the season, which was ultimately delayed until May. The first six weeks of the season will be played remotely. Matches will be played under a best-of-three format. Pistons GT received byes for the first two weeks.

The team members self-quarantined at a nearby apartment complex and NBA 2K activity ceased for two weeks.

Radoncic stayed in constant contact with friends and family in the New York area, even sending money to help those struggling during the crisis.

Rubin said he’s noticed changes with Radoncic’s demeanor and temperament, growth since he left his New York home for the first time in his life for the initial season.

“From where he was Season 1, to then going to the Pacers in Season 2 and now back Pistons, he’s definitely a much more mature with a leadership position within the NBA 2K community,” Rubin said. “He is one of the top five players in the league … that’s not changed, but the way he communicates to teammates now vs. Season 1 is vastly improved.

“In Season 1, he expected all of his teammates to see the game the way he did. Now, he recognizes he sees the game different from most everyone else. He’s taking on almost an assistant coach or team captain role without being given that responsibility.”