On May 28, Mark Eaton was killed in a crash while out riding his bike in Utah. The former NBA All-Star was 64 years old and leaves behind a huge hole in the sports community. While he may not have won a title with the Utah Jazz, Eaton was still one of the best defensive players year in and year out.
Path to Basketball
Eaton underwent a bit of an odyssey to start playing basketball. Getting to the NBA was something that he likely didn’t expect by the time this all started. An auto mechanic in 1977, Eaton was convinced to enroll at Cypress Community College to give basketball a shot. After two years, he soon transferred to UCLA where he blossomed into a player with a bigger skillset. However, he was never one of the players who was earning nationwide attention and was more of a solid role player.
Drafted in 1982, Eaton surprised everyone after being taken in the fourth round by the Utah Jazz. Starting 32 games in his rookie year, he averaged 19 minutes per game in the season. He shocked everyone with a franchise record at the time of 275 blocked shots. Eaton improved on his record over several years, with the best number being 456 blocks after the 1984-85 season. This record still hasn’t been broken and is easily up as one of the most unbreakable ones the NBA has.
While he isn’t in the NBA Hall of Fame, Eaton certainly has the resume which could get him in there in the next few years. He is still the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks per game at 3.5. Manute Bol is the closest to Eaton, with 3.34 blocks per game. He was also one of the tallest to ever play, standing at 7’4.
Eaton’s number 53 was the third number the Jazz retired in franchise history, getting added to the rafters of their arena on March 1st, 1996.
With the awards and honors Eaton gathered, it’s easy to see how much an impact he leaves. Eaton is one of only 10 players with 2 or more Defensive Player of the Year awards. He won his in 1985 and 1989 respectfully. The only players with more are Dwight Howard with 3 and both Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo with 4. He was chosen for the All-Defensive First Team 3 times and the second team twice. Eaton led the league in blocks 4 out of his 11 years, proving his dominance at the rim.
Impact in Retirement
He established himself as a positive influence in Utah and found ways to give back to the community in retirement. Eaton formed two restaurants, Tuscany’s and Franck’s. They have both gone on to become popular in the state, an emphasis on Eaton’s care for the host of his career. He was also the founder of the Mark Eaton Standing Tall for Youth Foundation. The foundation’s purpose has been to give opportunities for at-risk children to participate in various exercise-related activities.
The NBA made sure to pay tribute to Eaton with Game 5 of the Jazz–Grizzlies series. Holding a moment of silence before the game, it was something everyone could agree on as a good way to remember the big man. Regardless of who you speak with, it’s hard to deny Eaton will easily be forgotten.