Mark Eaton, Shot-Blocking Star for the Utah Jazz, Dies at 64

Mark Eaton, Shot-Blocking Star for the Utah Jazz, Dies at 64

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Mark Eaton, the 7-foot-4 shot-blocking king who twice was the N.B.A.’s defensive player of the year during a career spent entirely with the Utah Jazz, died on Friday night in a bicycle accident near his home in Summit County, Utah. He was 64.

The team said he had left his home for a bike ride, and shortly thereafter someone called 911 to report seeing him lying on a roadway and unconscious. He died at the hospital.

The county sheriff’s office said, “It appears the man was riding a bicycle and crashed,” adding that there was no reason to believe a vehicle was involved.

Eaton led the league in blocks per game four times, and his average of 5.6 per contest in 1984-85 remains the highest average since the N.B.A. started officially tracking that statistic. Eaton’s career blocks average of 3.51 per game is the best in league history, and his career happened almost by accident.

He was working as an auto mechanic in 1977 when a community college basketball coach persuaded him to enroll. From there, he went to U.C.L.A., and his stint with the Jazz followed.

“I had an unusual background,” Eaton said for a story published two years ago on the Jazz’s website. “It’s an unlikely story to be sure. I basically came into the N.B.A. with two years of junior college experience and sat on the bench at U.C.L.A. 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 some mistakes out there and get my feet underneath me. It worked out well for both of us.”

The Jazz described him in a statement as an “enduring figure in our franchise history.”

Eaton had been, among other things, a restaurateur and motivational speaker in his retirement.

Mark Eaton was born on Jan. 24, 1957, in Inglewood, Calif. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

In recent years, he served as a mentor to Jazz center Rudy Gobert — the only other player in the team’s history to win the defensive player of the year award.

His 11 playing seasons with the Jazz are third most in team history, behind the longtime Utah cornerstones Karl Malone and John Stockton. Eaton’s durability was noteworthy, with him once appearing in 338 consecutive games. He finished with career averages of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.

But his best skill was defending the rim, and he once told a story about how Wilt Chamberlain offered him advice about his career. He shared the tale during a motivational speech, telling others that Rule No. 1 for success is to “know your job.”

“Wilt grabbed me by the arm, took me out on the floor, positioned me right in front of the basket,” Eaton said. “He said, ‘You see this basket? Your job is to stop players from getting there. Your job is to make them miss their shot, get the rebound, throw it up to the guard, let them go down the other end and score, and your job is to cruise up to half-court and see what’s going on.’”

“When Wilt shared that with me, everything changed,” he said. “I understood what I needed to do. I understood what I could be great at. Wilt showed me what my job was, and how doing what I did would benefit my team.”

Eaton’s No. 53 was one of the first jerseys retired by the Jazz.

He was the defensive player of the year in 1984-85 and 1988-89, was a five-time All-Defensive team selection — three first-team nods, two second-team picks — and was an All-Star in 1989. He retired in September 1994.


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