by Daniel Olsen
On May 29, 2021, Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton passed away in a biking accident near his Utah home in Summit County. He was just 64 years old. His untimely death coincided with the NBA Playoffs and Memorial Day weekend. It’s time to take a look back on the life of a man whose number 53 jersey still hangs in the rafters at Vivint Arena.
Eaton was born and raised as a California boy. Despite his tall frame, he wasn’t interested in basketball at first. Summer sports like water polo took precedence on the West Coast. He wasn’t as coordinated at the time and came off the bench for the basketball team.
After high school, he decided to take up other talents besides sports. He worked at a local tire shop and was discovered by a junior college basketball coach due to his large stature. He would play at Cypress Junior college and have a nice career there which eventually led him to transfer to UCLA to play for the Bruins.
Eaton then played two years at UCLA, but once again mostly sat on the bench. He played 30 games and started in none of them. He didn’t think he would have a career in the NBA and many scouts agreed. However, one coach named Frank Layden saw him and decided that Eaton had one thing he couldn’t teach: height. At 7 feet 4 inches, Eaton had the physical tools to be a defensive force at the next level with a little work.
Eaton would go on to be a two-time defensive player of the year. He was also the four-time NBA leader in blocked shots. From 1985-1989, he spent time on all both the NBA First and Second All-Defensive Teams. He was first team three times and second team twice. He was also named to the NBA All-Star Game in 1989. His illustrious career alongside Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone aided in the renaissance of the Jazz.
Life after basketball
After his NBA career was over, Eaton spent time in several different ventures including motivational speaking, television broadcasts and founding his Standing Tall for Youth Organization. He was a person who loved life and felt the desire to excel in all aspects.
One great NBA player who inspired him was none other than Wilt Chamberlain. He encouraged Eaton to spend more time on rebounding and defense. That advice paid off. His passing away was untimely but, with the emergence of current defensive power Rudy Gobert, flashes of his greatness will always be brought up when discussing the Utah Jazz.