Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton, 64, dies in apparent bicycle accident

SALT LAKE CITY – Former Utah Jazz center and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Mark Eaton has passed away. He was 64 years old.

Eaton was found unconscious on Long Rifle Road near his home in Summit County on Friday evening following an apparent bicycle accident. Medical staff arrived at the scene and Eaton was taken to a nearby hospital where he died.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office said there were no witnesses to the crash and no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the incident. The Utah medical examiner’s office will determine the cause of Eaton’s death.

“The Summit County Sheriff’s Office extends our sincere condolences to the Eaton family, the Utah Jazz family and friends of Mark,” the sheriff’s office said. “The family requested privacy as they mourned her untimely death.”

Eaton played 11 seasons with the Utah Jazz from 1982 to 1993, becoming one of the game’s top defensemen. He was named All-Star in 1989 and was voted NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1989.

Eaton was instrumental in Utah’s rise to the NBA. He was part of the organization’s first playoff team in 1984 and helped the Jazz advance to their first conference final in 1992.

“Both Stockton and Malone were the face of Utah Jazz, as was Mark Eaton – everyone associated him with Utah Jazz,” said Kenny Smith, former Houston Rocket guard and TNT analyst.

Eaton averaged 5.6 blocks per game during the 1985 season – an NBA record that has yet to be broken. He blocked 3,064 shots during his NBA career, including a record 456 in 1984-85.

All of this from a former auto mechanic.

After graduating from high school, the Inglewood, California native fled to the Arizona Automotive Institute in Phoenix. He returned to Southern California, certificate in hand, ready to begin his career as an auto mechanic. It was in a tire store near Anaheim that Tom Lubin, then an assistant basketball coach and professor of chemistry at Cypress College, spotted Eaton in 1977. He glanced at the Eaton executive. and thought the same as everyone else: this young man has to play basketball.

Eaton initially fended off Lubin’s attempts to get it to try for the Cypress team – but after going through more than a dozen selling points, Lubin found one that worked.

“Tom convinced me that my height, which I saw as my biggest responsibility, could be my greatest strength,” Eaton told Sports Illustrated in 2011. “But I had to give up any idea of ​​who or of what I could be. “

After his freshman year at Cypress, he was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 107th pick in the 5th round of the 1979 NBA Draft. However, he chose to return to college basketball. After two seasons at Cypress, he transferred to UCLA. He hasn’t had much time with the Bruins – only 41 minutes total in his senior season – but even on the bench, it’s hard not to stand out at his height.

What is that old adage? You cannot train height. Former jazz coach Frank Layden believed in this, taking Eaton with the fourth pick in the 1982 draft, beginning a career that would eventually lead to Eaton’s No.53 being retired from the organization.

“The Utah Jazz are deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of Mark Eaton, who was an enduring figure in the history of our franchise and had a significant impact in the community following his basketball career,” the team said. in a press release. “Mark has played his entire 11-year NBA career with the Jazz and his number has been retired as both NBA All-Star and NBA Defensive Player of the Year on two occasions.”

Eaton came to Utah to play professional basketball. He stayed because he became a member of the community.

After his retirement, he would go on to claim the title of world’s tallest cowboy and world’s tallest skier, becoming one of Utah’s strongest – and arguably greatest – ambassadors. He has become a successful author, restaurateur and motivational speaker. He also served as a mentor for the current Jazz defensive force: Rudy Gobert.

Eaton walked into the locker room a few times during Gobert’s rookie season; Gobert would visit Eaton’s restaurant soon. A hard-hitting friendship quickly developed.

“To my great mentor and friend (Mark Eaton), one of a kind and an amazing human being,” Gobert written on twitter. “I am grateful for your presence in my life over the years. Our conversations will be missing. But I know you are going to watch them.

Eaton still seemed to be watching his old team. His towering 7-foot-4 frame was a mainstay of jazz games – including Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Memphis Grizzlies, just two days before his untimely passing.

“His presence continued in the organization as a friend and ambassador while giving back as a businessman and volunteer to his adopted town in Utah,” the team’s statement continued. . “We offer our deepest condolences to his wife Teri and their extended family. Mark will be sadly missed by all of us with the Jazz.”

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