Mark Eaton, the 7-foot-4 king who started playing basketball at Cypress College before becoming a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year in a career spent entirely with the Utah Jazz, has passed away. He was 64 years old.
The team announced his death on Saturday but did not give a cause or details, saying only that it was “unexpected”.
The Jazz described him in a statement as an “enduring figure in our franchise history” who had “a significant impact in the community following his basketball career.”
The center has spent his entire NBA career with the Jazz, led the league four times in blocks per game, and his 5.6-per-game average in 1984-85 remains the highest average since the NBA began to officially follow. this statistic.
“He was so impressive,” longtime NBA broadcaster Mike Inglis, now the radio voice of the Miami Heat, said on Saturday. “I used to call it the human apartment complex. It was something else on defense, let me tell you.
Eaton’s career block average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history, and his career happened almost by accident.
Born January 24, 1957 in Inglewood, Eaton graduated from Westminster High and was working as an auto mechanic in 1977 when Tom Lubin, assistant basketball coach at Cypress College, persuaded him to sign up and try for the team. basketball. As a rookie, Eaton was taken with the 107th overall pick by Phoenix in the 1979 NBA Draft, but decided to return to community college.
From there he transferred to UCLA in 1980 and in two seasons played sparingly – a total of 42 minutes in his senior season – but, thanks to his size and defensive potential, was drafted at No.72 in the general ranking by Utah in 1982.
“I had an unusual background,” Eaton said of an article posted on Jazz’s website two years ago. “It’s an unlikely story to be sure. I basically entered the NBA with two years of college experience and sat on the bench at UCLA for two years. And (jazz coach) Frank Layden gave me a chance and the team was in a space where they could afford to let me make mistakes and put my feet under me. It worked out well for both of us.
Eaton had been, among other things, a restaurateur and motivational speaker after his retirement. In recent years, he’s 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.
Eaton’s death came days after he was in Chicago to be part of the celebration for his friend Joe West, who broke baseball’s umpiring record playing his 5,376th regular-season game on Tuesday night.
Eaton’s 11 seasons of playing with the Jazz are the third most significant in team history, behind longtime Utah stalwarts Karl Malone and John Stockton. His durability was remarkable, with him once appearing in 338 straight games. He finished with career averages of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Eaton’s # 53 was one of the first jerseys retired by Jazz. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1984-85 and 1988-89, was drafted five times in the All-Defensive Team – three first-team nods, two second-team picks – and was an All -Star in 1989.
His last match was in 1993, but back problems ended his career and he retired in September 1994.
“It was a great race, but life has a way to progress and I have to keep going with it,” Eaton wrote in a column for The Salt Lake Tribune in which he announced his retirement. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life and your community. I will be there.
True to his word, Eaton remained a mainstay of Utah for the rest of his life.