SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Former Utah Jazz All-Star center and 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Mark Eaton has passed away at the age of 64.
The Jazz said that police said Eaton was found lying in the road around 8:30 p.m. Friday after apparently crashing his bike in Summit County, Utah. According to the team, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office said that 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.
The Gail Miller family shares their thoughts:
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of our dear friend and basketball great, Mark Eaton. One of the most imposing defensive players in NBA history, he was a giant of a man in more than just stature. Mark was a pillar of our community who adopted Utah as his home and was deeply committed to Utah Jazz. Our family treasures the times we shared with him and send our deepest sympathies to his loved ones.”
The 7-foot 4 center spent his entire 11-year NBA career with the Jazz From 1982-1993, and at 7-foot-4 became one of the most prolific rim protectors in the history league.
He was voted the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and in 1989. He made the NBA All-Defensive Teams five times, and led the league in blocked shots four times.
Current Jazz owner Ryan Smith expressed his sympathies on Twitter, writing, “Devastating news. As a kid, I grew up watching and cheering for big Mark. Thank you for the countless memories big man. Your legacy continues.”
When he retired, he was second in the NBA in career blocked shots with 3,064, only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Eaton made his lone All-Star Game appearance in 1989.
After retiring from basketball, Eaton became a successful motivational speaker, author, and restauranteur. He opened Tuscany Restaurant in Salt Lake City in 1996.
Eaton was a friend and mentor to current Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who is expected to win his third NBA Defensive Player of the Year award this season.
“To my great mentor and friend @markeaton7ft4, one of kind and an amazing human being, i’m grateful for your presence in my life over the years,” Gobert posted Saturday on Twitter. “Gonna miss our conversations. But i know you’ll be watching.”
Before the Jazz playoff game against Memphis Saturday night, head coach Quin Snyder expressed his condolences to the Eaton family.
“Mark is someone who was a friend,” Snyder said. “His friendship with Rudy is emblematic of who he was.”
Growing up in Southern California, Eaton more interested in water polo than basketball. He actually became a certified auto mechanic before playing basketball at Cypress College, and then UCLA.
Frank Layden and the Jazz selected him in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA Draft.
Eaton set a Jazz franchise record in his rookie season with 81 blocks. Eaton’s best season may have been in 1985 when he shattered the NBA record, averaging 5.6 blocks per game. Eaton’s career blocks average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history,
The Utah Jazz shares the following statement;
“The Utah Jazz are profoundly saddened at the unexpected passing of Mark Eaton, who was an enduring figure in our franchise history and had a significant impact in the community after his basketball career. Mark played his entire 11-year NBA career with the Jazz and his number was retired as an NBA All-Star and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. His presence continued around the organization as a friend and ambassador while giving back as a businessman and volunteer to his adopted hometown in Utah. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Teri and their extended family. Mark will be greatly missed by all of us with the Jazz.”
There has been tremendous reaction to Eaton’s passing throughout the NBA world. Here is what the Charles Barkley and the crew on TNT had to say:
Eaton also served as an officer in the National Basketball Players Association, and the union released a statement Saturday saying he would be missed.
“It may be cliched, but it’s true: Mark Eaton was a giant, in every sense of the word,” the NBPA statement said. “A long-time member of the NBPA Executive Committee right through his retirement from the league in 1994, Mark served his colleagues with grace and strength, and continued to watch over them through his service for the Retired Players Association. His imposing physical presence made a delightful match with his warm and thoughtful manner.”
The Jazz host Memphis in Game 3 of the NBA Playoffs tonight at 7:30 p.m.