NBA left 'devastated' after death of Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton

Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton, a defensive juggernaut who went on to mentor a successor of sorts in Rudy Gobert, has died aged 64. Pictures: Getty Images

The NBA world is mourning the sudden death of Utah Jazz great Mark Eaton, one of the league's foremost shot-blockers throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Eaton's death, aged 64, was announced by the Jazz on Saturday.

He had 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 224-centimetre giant was the shot-blocking king of the NBA throughout the 1980s, averaging a still-record mark of 3.5 blocks per game.

Eaton was 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.

He also holds the single-season record for blocks per game, his 5.6 per contest in 1984-85 an unthinkably high mark to this day.

Eaton maintained his links to the Jazz after his retirement from the NBA in 1993, notably mentoring a successor of sorts in fellow shot-blocking specialist Rudy Gobert.

Tributes flowed for the iconic NBA figure who, while not a superstar in his own right, left an indelible mark on the game and whose place in the record books likely remains assured for years to come.

Gobert and the Jazz were quick to pay tribute to Eaton, whose 56 jersey was one of the first to be retired by the franchise.

"To my great mentor and friend Mark Eaton, one of kind and an amazing human being, I’m grateful for your presence in my life over the years," Gobert wrote on Twitter.

"Gonna miss our conversations. But I know you’ll be watching."

Australian star Joe Ingles, Gobert's Jazz teammate, also paid tribute to the beloved Jazz giant.

"Devastated to hear the passing of Mark Eaton, one of the nicest guys around. Thoughts are with Teri & the rest of his family," he wrote.

NBA mourns defensive juggernaut Mark Eaton

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.

Utah Jazz icon Mark Eaton has died, aged 64. (Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
Utah Jazz icon Mark Eaton has died, aged 64. (Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

"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."

"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."

With AAP

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