Mark Eaton, the 7-foot-4 shooting block king who was twice the NBA’s defensive player of the year during a career at the Utah Jazz, has died. He was 64 years old.
The Jazz said police said Eaton was found dumped in the road around 8:30 p.m. Friday after an apparent bicycle accident in Summit County, Utah. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office said Eaton was taken to a hospital, where he later died, and that there was no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the accident, according to the team.
The Jazz described him in a statement as an “enduring figure in our franchise history” who had a “significant impact on the community following his basketball career.”
The center led the league in blocks per game four times and his average of 5.6 per game in 1984-85 is still the highest average since the NBA began officially tracking that statistic.
Eaton’s career blocking average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history, and his career happened almost by accident. He was working as an auto mechanic in 1977 when a community college basketball coach convinced him to enroll. From there, he went to UCLA, and continued his time with the Jazz.
“I had an unusual experience,” Eaton said for a story posted on the Jazz website two years ago. “It is an unlikely story, no doubt. Basically, I came to the NBA with two years of college experience and sat on the bench at UCLA for two years. And Frank Layden gave me a chance and the team was in a space where they could afford to let me make a few mistakes and get my feet under me. It worked well for both of us. “
Eaton had been, among other things, a restorer and motivational speaker in retirement. In recent years, he has served as a mentor to Utah center Rudy Gobert, the only other player in Jazz history to win the defensive player of the year award.
“To my great mentor and friend @ markeaton7ft4, one of a kind and an amazing human being, I am grateful for his presence in my life throughout the years,” Gobert wrote on Twitter. “I am going to miss our conversations. But I know you’ll be watching. “
“It was so impressive,” NBA announcer Mike Inglis, now the radio voice of the Miami Heat, said Saturday. “I used to call it the human condominium complex. He was something more on defense, let me tell you. “
Eaton’s death came days after he was in Chicago to be part of a celebration for his friend Joe West, who broke baseball’s record for umpires by working his 5,376 regular-season game Tuesday night.
His 11 seasons of play with the Jazz are the third most in team history, behind Utah mainstays Karl Malone and John Stockton. His durability was remarkable, appearing once in 338 consecutive games. He finished with career averages of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Eaton’s number 53 was one of the first jerseys recalled by the Jazz. He was the defensive player of the year in 1984-85 and 1988-89, was selected five times by the Defensive Team (three first team nominations, two second team selections) and was an All-Star in 1989.
He was picked the 107th overall pick by Phoenix in the 1979 draft, then was drafted again at No. 72 overall by Utah in 1982. And he never left; His last game was in 1993, but back problems ended his career and he retired in September 1994.
“It’s been a great journey, but life has a way of moving on and I have to move on,” Eaton wrote in a column for the Salt Lake Tribune announcing his retirement. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life and community. I’ll be around.”
True to his word, Eaton remained a mainstay of Utah for the rest of his life.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism