Mark Edward Eaton (January 24, 1957 – May 28, 2021) was an American professional basketball player who spent his entire career (1982–1993) with the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Named an NBA All-Star in 1989, he was twice voted the NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1985, 1989) and was a five-time member of the NBA All-Defensive Team. Though limited offensively, the 7-foot-4-inch (2.24 m) Eaton became one of the best defensive centers in NBA history. He led the league in blocks four times and holds the NBA single-season records for blocks (456) and blocked shots per game average (5.6), as well as career blocked shots per game (3.5). His No. 53 was retired by the Jazz.
|Born||January 24, 1957|
Inglewood, California, U.S.
|Died||May 28, 2021 (aged 64)|
Park City, Utah, U.S.
|Listed height||7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)|
|Listed weight||275 lb (125 kg)|
|High school||Westminster (Westminster, California)|
|NBA draft||1982 / Round: 4 / Pick: 72nd overall|
|Selected by the Utah Jazz|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NBA statistics|
|Points||5,216 (6.0 ppg)|
|Rebounds||6,939 (7.9 rpg)|
|Blocks||3,064 (3.5 bpg)|
|Stats at NBA.com|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
Eaton was a reserve on his high school basketball team before graduating and working as an auto mechanic. He was discovered by an assistant coach at Cypress College, who persuaded Eaton to enroll at the community college and play basketball. Eaton transferred to play college basketball for the UCLA Bruins, but he was used sparingly. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz as a long-term project. Eaton helped transform the Jazz from a last-place team into a perennial playoff team. When he retired from playing in 1994, he ranked second in the NBA in career blocks behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Eaton was born on January 24, 1957, in Inglewood, California, and grew up in Southern California. His father, Bud, was a diesel mechanic instructor and stood 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m) tall, while Eaton's mother, Delores, was 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m). Despite his height, Eaton was more interested in playing water polo than basketball. As a senior at Westminster High School in Orange County, he stood 6 feet 11 inches (2.11 m) and weighed 175 pounds (79 kg) but was uncoordinated, not very muscular, and relegated to a backup role on the basketball team. "The coaches didn't know how to teach me to play big, and I didn't know how to play big," said Eaton.
After graduating from high school in 1975, Eaton attended the Arizona Automotive Institute in Glendale and graduated as an automotive service technician. He returned to Orange County and worked as an auto mechanic, making $20,000 a year, when he was eventually discovered by Tom Lubin while repairing cars in Anaheim in April 1977. Lubin, a chemistry professor, was an assistant basketball coach at Cypress College. He had previously discovered Swen Nater, who did not play in high school but went on to a long, pro career. Lubin's uncle, Frank, played on the 1936 U.S. Olympic basketball team. Lubin's encouragement led Eaton to enroll at the community college in 1978 and try out for its basketball team.
After his freshman year at Cypress, Eaton was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the fifth round of the 1979 NBA draft with the 107th pick. He was eligible to be drafted because he was already four years removed from high school. However, he opted to return to college basketball. Eaton developed into a solid junior college player. He averaged 14.3 points per game in two seasons at Cypress, and led the school to the California junior college title as a sophomore in 1980.
Eaton transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1980, but did not see much action in his two seasons with the Bruins. He played sparingly under head coach Larry Brown in 1980–81. The tallest players in the starting lineup were Darren Daye and Cliff Pruitt at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m), but Eaton was too slow for the team's fast-paced offense. In Eaton's senior year in 1981–82, new coach Larry Farmer vowed to give him a shot to start, but heralded freshman Stuart Gray got the nod instead. Eaton played just 41 total minutes that season, averaging 1.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 11 games. Farmer did not play him at all towards the end of the season and did not allow him to travel with the team on their last road trip to Oregon and Oregon State. "If I ever felt cheated, that was the time I felt the worst," recalled Eaton in 1985. "I had worked so hard and it wasn't like I was causing any problems."
Eaton was initially disappointed with his inability to play effectively in college. At a summer pickup game, Wilt Chamberlain saw his frustration, and encouraged Eaton to focus on protecting the basket, getting rebounds, and passing the ball to quicker guards, rather than trying to compete with smaller, quicker players in scoring. Eaton cited Chamberlain's advice as the turning point in his basketball career.
Because of his lack of playing time at UCLA, few NBA teams had interest in Eaton after he finished his college career. He paid for two tryout camps, but only received an offer of $15,000 to play in Israel and another for $25,000 in Monte Carlo. However, the Utah Jazz, who finished in last place the prior season, saw him as a potentially dominant defender and selected him as a long-term project in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA draft with the 72nd overall pick. Utah coach Frank Layden quipped, "Like [former University of Utah coach] Jack Gardner said, 'You can't teach height.'" Also the team's general manager, Layden discouraged Eaton from playing in Europe and signed him to a five-year contract, with the first season guaranteed at $45,000, for a total $570,000.
Eaton had worn No. 35 at UCLA, but the number was already taken on the Jazz by Darrell Griffith, prompting Eaton to choose the reversed No. 53. Entering the NBA, Eaton's goal was to become a journeyman backup. He made an immediate impact as a rookie, starting 32 games and replacing Danny Schayes after the cash-strapped Jazz traded the center mid-season. Eaton finished the season with a then-franchise record 275 blocked shots while averaging only 19 minutes per game. His 3.4 blocks per game ranked third in the NBA, behind Atlanta's Tree Rollins and San Diego's Bill Walton.
The Jazz placed Eaton on a six-day-a-week program in the offseason. Layden said they treated him "like a high school kid as far as basketball skills are concerned". Eaton continued to improve in his second season. In 82 games in 1983–84, he grabbed a team-leading 595 rebounds and blocked 351 shots (breaking his own franchise record). His 4.28 blocks per game led the NBA, well ahead of Rollins (who finished second with 3.60 blocks per game). During the season, he failed in his attempt to block the hook shot which gave Kareem Abdul-Jabbar his 31,421st point to break the NBA career scoring record held by Chamberlain. Eaton's strong defense helped the Jazz improve from 30–52 in his rookie season to 45–37, winning their first Midwest Division title and making their first playoff appearance.
In Eaton's third season in 1984–85, he blocked 456 shots, shattering the NBA record for most blocked shots in a single season set during the 1973–74 season by Elmore Smith, who had blocked 393 shots for the Los Angeles Lakers. Eaton averaged 5.56 blocks per game, an NBA single-season record that was more than double the league's second-ranked shot-blocker that season (Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon with 2.68 blocks per game). In addition, Eaton averaged 11.3 rebounds per game, ranking fifth in the league in that category. "We had no idea that he would develop the way he has," said Layden during the season. Eaton was not on the All-Star ballot that year after being one of the final cuts. For his efforts, he was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team and was honored as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. On April 26, 1985, Eaton made ten blocks in a 96–94 loss to the Rockets, becoming the first NBA player to record ten blocks in a playoff game (later tied by Olajuwon and Andrew Bynum).
Although he was not a significant offensive contributor, the Jazz relied heavily on Eaton for his shot-blocking, rebounding, and occasional "tippy toe" dunks. With the emergence of superstars Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz became one of the best teams in the NBA. Eaton's stifling defense was a major factor in Utah's success. He continued to rank among NBA leaders in blocked shots, leading the league in 1986–87 and 1987–88. On November 17, 1987, Eaton set a career high with 25 rebounds in a 120–110 win over the Denver Nuggets. In 1988–89, he averaged 10.3 rebounds per game (seventh in the NBA) and 3.84 blocks per game (second behind Golden State's Manute Bol). He was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career, and received his third selection to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. In addition, he was chosen to play in the 1989 NBA All-Star Game, joining teammates Malone and Stockton on the Western Conference team. It was the first time that the Jazz had three players in the All-Star Game.
In the 1989 playoffs, the second-seeded Jazz were upset in the first round 3–0 by the seventh-seeded Warriors. Golden State coach Don Nelson spread out his offense and avoided going inside against Eaton, and they played most of the series with a small lineup in which their tallest players on the court were 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) Larry Smith or Ben McDonald or even 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) Rod Higgins. Opponents were increasingly playing with smaller lineups, forcing Eaton to guard a quicker player who would draw him out to the perimeter and seek to drive past him. Utah coach Jerry Sloan countered by decreasing Eaton's playing time and employing his own small lineup with backup center Mike Brown. In 1991–92, there was speculation that the more offensive-minded Brown would start the season at center, but Sloan stuck with Eaton. However, Eaton's playing time dropped to 25 minutes per game from 32 minutes in 1990–91.
After missing just nine games in his first 10 seasons, Eaton was hindered by knee and back injuries late in his career. His rebounding and shot-blocking averages declined. During the 1992–93 season, knee surgery and back problems limited him to 64 games, averaging 17.3 minutes per game, both career lows. A degenerative back ailment forced him to drop out of training camp and miss the 1993–94 season; his contract expired at the end of the season. After therapy failed to correct the problem, he announced his retirement from basketball in September 1994.
Eaton spent his entire 11-year NBA career with the Utah Jazz, helping transform the franchise from perennial 50-game losers to perennial 50-game winners. After going 30–52 in his first year, they made the playoffs in each of his 10 other seasons, beginning a run of 20 straight postseason appearances for the Jazz. In 875 games, he scored 5,216 points, grabbed 6,939 rebounds, and blocked 3,064 shots. At the time of his retirement, he ranked second all-time in league history in total blocked shots, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career total of 3,189. Blocks were not recorded as an official statistic until Abdul-Jabbar's fifth NBA season in 1973–74. Eaton is the NBA's all-time leader in blocks per game, with a career average of 3.50. In a six-season span from his second season through his seventh (1983–1989), he led the league in blocks four times and was the runner-up twice while averaging 4.3 blocks per games over 488 contests. He never averaged more than 10 points per game in a season, which frustrated Utah fans after his scoring tapered off following a career high of 9.7 in 1984–85.
To honor his contributions to the team, the Utah Jazz retired Eaton's No. 53 in 1996. In 2010, he was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame along with former Jazz player Tom Chambers.
In 2014, Eaton had his jersey retired at Westminster High School and also at Cypress College, along with Swen Nater and head coach Don Johnson.
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field goal percentage||3P%||3-point field goal percentage||FT%||Free throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game||Bold||Career high|
|*||Led the league||NBA record|
After his retirement, Eaton worked for KJZZ-TV in Salt Lake City, providing color commentary and analysis for television broadcasts of Utah Jazz and University of Utah basketball games. He also hosted a radio talk show before Jazz games.
Eaton was a partner in Salt Lake City-area restaurants Tuscany and Franck's.
He was a president/board member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) from 1997 to 2007. He was also a founder and chairman of the Mark Eaton Standing Tall for Youth organization, which provided sports and outdoor activities for at-risk children in Utah. He was also a motivational speaker, and published the book The Four Commitments of a Winning Team.
In the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Jazz player Jeremy Evans jumped over a seated Eaton to dunk the ball. In later years, Eaton became a mentor to Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who joined him as the only other player in the franchise's history to be named defensive player of the year.
Eaton married in 1980 to his first wife, Marci, a registered nurse who trained in Los Angeles. She worked as a nurse in Santa Monica to support him while he was going to college. They had two sons, Nicolas and Douglas.
While living in Utah in Jeremy Ranch in the 1980s, Eaton ordered a mountain bike suitable for his body frame, and he biked a number of the region's first mountain bike trails. Around 2016, he began riding a custom French-built road bike for tall cyclists, which came outfitted with 36-inch (910 mm) wheels.
On May 28, 2021, Eaton biked with a neighbor to lunch. A few hours after returning home, Eaton told his wife, Teri, that he was going for a short ride in the neighborhood. He died after a bicycle accident about a block from his home in Park City, Utah. He was found unresponsive by a passerby and was pronounced dead at the hospital. He was 64 years old.
- Eaton, Mark (2018). The Four Commitments of a Winning Team. Greenleaf Book Group Press. ISBN 9781626345324.
- ^ a b "Mark Edward Eaton". The Memories. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- ^ a b c "Mark Eaton, Shot-Blocking Star for the Utah Jazz, Dies at 64". The New York Times. The Associated Press. May 30, 2021. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ a b Carr, Al (January 12, 1979). "Cypress' Tall Order Is Taking Great Strides". Los Angeles Times. Part III, pps. 11, 13. Retrieved May 30, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hersch, Hank (May 1, 1989). "Big Man on the Block". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ a b c d e Crowe, Jerry (April 9, 2007). "He reached great heights, kept his head out of clouds". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
- ^ a b c d e f Vescey, George (January 18, 1984). "Utah's Mechanic". The New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ Torre, Pablo S. (July 4, 2011). "Larger Than Real Life". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ a b c d e Whitfield, Tim (January 11, 1983). "More than a clunker down the racks". The Kansas City Times. pp. C-1, C-4. Retrieved May 30, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ Nelson, John (February 11, 1981). "Brown's Bruins set for big doins'". Messenger-Inquirer. Associated Press. p. 4B. Retrieved June 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ May, Peter (November 20, 1985). "Utah's 7–4 Eaton Is Eager To Grow As Offensive Player". The Hartford Courant. p. D5. Retrieved June 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ a b "Mark Eaton College Stats". Sports Reference. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
- ^ a b c d DiGiovanna, Mike (February 4, 1993). "Getting It Done : 7-Foot-4 Eaton Grows Into His Own in NBA". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
- ^ a b c Campbell, Steve (January 31, 1989). "Eaton". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Section 3, page 4. Retrieved June 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ a b c d Littwin, Mike (January 6, 1985). "Mark Eaton: This is a tall story that appears to have a happy ending. It's about a late-bloomer who happens to be 7–5 and on his way to becoming an NBA star". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ Anderson, Ben (April 21, 2020). "Chance Encounter With Wilt Chamberlain Launched Mark Eaton's Career". KSLSports.com. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ Rock, Brad (March 31, 2018). "Jazz commitment strategy dates back to Mark Eaton". Deseret News. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ Mark Eaton – NBA All-Star on YouTube, motivational speech given by Mark Eaton.
- ^ a b c d e f g Hemphill, Lex (March 1996). "Mark Eaton: Utah's Master of the Blocked Shot". Utah Jazz HomeCourt Magazine. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i "Mark Eaton Stats". Basketball Reference. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ Hemphill, Lex (June 30, 1982). "Bucks Draft Y.'s Roberts". The Salt Lake Tribune. p. 2C. Retrieved June 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ a b Benson, Lee (November 14, 2010). "About Utah: Mark Eaton leads an elevated Utah life at 7 foot 4". Deseret News. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ a b Larsen, Andy; Walden, Eric (May 29, 2021). "Utah Jazz great Mark Eaton dies at age 64". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
- ^ "Utah Jazz Season Leaders". Basketball Reference. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ "1982–83 NBA Leaders". Basketball Reference. Archived from the original on June 2, 2021. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ Rogers, Thomas (May 18, 1983). "Scouting: Summer Project". The New York Times. p. B14. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ Newman, Bruce (April 16, 1984). "A Sky Hook that Was For The Book". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ Kantowski, Ron (June 5, 2021). "NBA big man recalled for shots he blocked and 1 he didn't". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ a b c Kragthorpe, Kurt (September 29, 1994). "Eaton Puts Wraps on Jazz Career". The Salt Lake Tribune. pp. D-1, D-4. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
- ^ a b Hanlon, Matt (February 28, 2014). "Tall Order". The Orange County Register. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ "Utah's Eaton named Defensive Player of the Year". The Honolulu Adviser. United Press International. May 10, 1985. p. E-3. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ "Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Box Score, April 26, 1985". Basketball-Reference. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
- ^ Beacham, Greg (April 30, 2012). "Bynum's a gem in rocking Nuggets". The Vancouver Sun. Associated Press. p. C8. Retrieved May 31, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ "Mark Eaton Career High 25 Rebounds". Statmuse.
- ^ "1989 NBA All-Star recap". NBA.com. August 24, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ Hubbard, Jan (May 7, 1989). "Nelson's Actions as Strong as His Reputation". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
- ^ "Mark Eaton, NBA shot-blocking legend, dies in bicycle crash". The Mercury News. Associated Press. May 30, 2021. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
With 6-foot-7 Rod Higgins as their tallest player on the floor for most of the series, the seventh-seeded Warriors stunned the second-seeded Jazz by sweeping them in three games in their- first-round series.
- ^ Kragthorpe, Kurt (April 5, 1990). "EATON VS. 'LITTLE GUYS' ; JAZZ CENTER FACES NEW DEFENSIVE CHALLENGE". Deseret News. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
- ^ Luhm, Steve (October 30, 1991). "Jazz Will Open Season With Familiar Look". The Salt Lake Tribune. p. D1. Retrieved June 4, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ a b "Back Troubles Force Utah's Eaton to Retire". Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1994. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
- ^ a b Cwik, Chris (May 29, 2021). "Jazz great Mark Eaton dies at 64". Yahoo Sports. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ "Back ailment forces Mark Eaton to retire". Lansing State Journal. September 29, 1994. p. 2D. Retrieved May 31, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ Denberg, Jeffrey (December 1, 1989). "'Man Mountain' Eaton Helps Jazz Climb". Atlanta Journal and Constitution. p. F-8. Retrieved June 4, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ "NBA big man Eaton meets NASCAR's biggest track". NASCAR. June 20, 2013. Archived from the original on February 1, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- ^ Evans, Richard (March 1, 1996). "NO. 53: FROM FLOOR TO RAFTERS". Deseret News. Retrieved April 19, 2022.
- ^ Zundel, Rod (November 16, 2010). "5 inducted into Utah Sports Hall Of Fame". KSL.com. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ "Cypress College legends come home". Event-News Enterprise. March 1, 2014. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ Shaw, Richard (September 4, 2001). "The Sports View". Sun Advocate. p. 6A. Retrieved June 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^ "UTAH MEN'S BASKETBALL NOTES – GAME #14". UtahUtes.com. January 2, 2005. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ a b McLeod, Paul (January 3, 2001). "Eaton Isn't Taking His Retirement Sitting Down". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ a b Flores, Cristina; James, David; Turner, Jared (May 29, 2021). "Former Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton dies at age 64". KUTV.com. Retrieved April 19, 2022.
- ^ "Owner Bios". Archived from the original on February 12, 2007. Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- ^ Eaton, Mark. "Mark Eaton on LinkedIn". LinkedIn.
- ^ "2005 NBA All – Star Technology Summit" (PDF). NBA. February 18, 2005.
Mark Eaton (President, National Basketball Retired Players Association)
- ^ "Retirees: Slick NBA still short on skills". USA Today. February 20, 2006.
- ^ Jensen, Maren (April 23, 2018). "Person 2 Person: Mark Eaton". KUTV.com. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ Rasmussen, Dan (February 16, 2013). "Utah Jazz: Jeremy Evans flies high in Slam Dunk Contest again but settles for second place". Deseret News. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
- ^ Israelsen, Brent (February 14, 1991). "EATON AND HIS WIFE EXTOL MERITS OF AN EDUCATION". Deseret News. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- ^ a b c d Benson, Lee (May 29, 2021). "A friend for all seasons: Biking buddy recalls last ride with Big Mark". Deseret News. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
- ^ Stein, Marc (June 2, 2021). "After Bonding Over Basketball and Biking, a Big Loss". The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
- Career statistics and player information from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com