Jazz shot-blocking king Eaton dies at 64

·3-min read

Mark Eaton, the 224cm shot-blocking king who twice was the NBA's defensive player of the year during a career spent entirely with the Utah Jazz, has died. He was 64.

The team announced his death on Saturday.

Eaton left his home for a bike ride on Friday night in Summit County, Utah, and shortly thereafter someone called 911 after seeing him lying on a roadway and unconscious.

Eaton was taken to a hospital where he later died.

The team, citing county officials who investigated, said "there is no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the incident."

The Jazz described him in a statement as an "enduring figure in our franchise history" who had a "significant impact in the community after his basketball career".

The centre 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 NBA started officially tracking that statistic.

"I used to call him the human condominium complex. He was something else on defence, let me tell you," longtime NBA broadcaster Mike Inglis said.

Eaton's career blocks average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history.

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

In recent years, he served as a mentor to Utah centre Rudy Gobert - the only other player in Jazz history to win the defensive player of the year award.

Eaton's 11 playing seasons with the Jazz are third most in team history, behind longtime Utah cornerstones Karl Malone and John Stockton.

His once appeared in 338 consecutive games and finished with career averages of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.

But his best skill was defending the rim, and Eaton once told a story about how Wilt Chamberlain offered him advice

"Wilt grabbed me by the arm, took me out on the floor, positioned me right in front of the basket," Eaton recalled.

"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... I understood what I could be great at."

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 and was an All-Star in 1989.

"It has been a great ride, but life does have a way of moving on and I must move on with it," Eaton wrote in a column for The Salt Lake Tribune in which he announced his retirement in September 1994.

"Thank you for letting me be a part of your life and community. I'll be around."

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