Mark Eaton, the 7-foot-4 shot blocking king who was twice the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in a career spent entirely with the Utah Jazz , has passed away. He was 64 years old.
The Jazz said police said Eaton was found lying on the road around 8:30 p.m. Friday after an apparent bicycle accident in Summit County, Utah. The Summit County Sheriff's Office said Eaton was taken to hospital, where he later died, and there was no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the crash, according to the team.
The Jazz described him in a statement as a "lasting figure in the history of our franchise "which had " a significant impact in the community after his basketball career ".
The center led the league in blocks per game on four occasions and its 5.6 per game average in 1984-85 remains the highest average since NBA has officially started tracking this statistic.
Eaton 's career block average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history, and his career came about almost by accident. He was working as an auto mechanic in 1977 when a community college basketball coach persuaded him to join. From there he went to UCLA, and his stint with Jazz followed.
"I had an unusual background," said Eaton for a story posted on the Jazz web. site two years ago. "It's an unlikely story, to be sure. Basically, I entered the NBA with two years of college experience and sat on the bench at UCLA 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 mistakes and put my feet up.s feet. It worked well for both of us.
Eaton was, among other things, a restaurateur and motivational speaker upon retirement. In recent years, he has 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.
"To my great mentor and friend @ markeaton7ft4, one of a kind and amazing human being, I am grateful for your presence in my life over the years," Gobert wrote on Twitter . “Our conversations will be missing. But I know you'll watch. "
" He was so impressive "longtime NBA broadcaster Mike Inglis said on Saturday, now. the radio voice of the Miami Heat. "I called it the human condominium complex. It was something else in defense, let me tell you.
Eaton 's death occurred within daysafter he was in Chicago to be part of the celebration for his friend Joe West, who broke the baseball umpire record playing his 5,376th regular season game on Tuesday night.
His 11 seasons of playing with Jazz are the third biggest in team history, behind Utah Cornerstones Karl Malone and John Stockton. His durability was remarkable, as he appeared once in 338 consecutive games. He finished with career averages of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Eaton 's number 53 was one of the first jerseys withdrawn by Jazz. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1984-85 and 1988-89, was called to the Defensive All-Star five times - three first team caps, two second team picks - and was an All-Star member in 1989.
He was taken with the 107th pick overall by Phoenix in the drafthage in 1979, then drafted again at 72nd by Utah in 1982. And he never left; his last match was in 1993, but back problems ended his career and he retired in September 1994.
"It was a great adventure, but life has a way to go on and I have to go on with it, ”Eaton wrote in a column for the Salt Lake Tribune on retirement. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life and your community. I'll be there. "
True to his word, Eaton was a mainstay of Utah for the rest of his life.