The Jazz said police said Eaton was found on the street around 8:30 p.m. Friday after apparently crashing his bike in Summit County, Utah. According to the team, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office said Eaton was rushed to hospital, where he later died, and that there was no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the accident.
“The Utah Jazz is deeply saddened by the unexpected death of Mark Eaton, who was an enduring figure in our franchise history and made a significant impact on the community after his basketball career,” the team said in a statement.
“… His presence in the organization as a friend and ambassador continued while he gave something back as a businessman and volunteer in his adopted city of Utah. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Teri and her extended family. We miss Mark very much we all with jazz. “
The death of Utah jazz legend Mark Eaton broke our hearts.
Our thoughts go with his family as we all mourn the loss of a great man, mentor, athlete, and staple of the community. pic.twitter.com/HkINyLF9ix
– Utahjazz (@utahjazz) May 29, 2021
The NBA mourns the loss of Mark Eaton, a Utah jazz legend and past president of the Retired Players Association. Mark was an all-star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a beloved member of our league. We extend our deep condolences to his family and many friends. pic.twitter.com/7AjsqwMwpt
– NBA (@NBA) May 29, 2021
The center, which has spent its entire career in jazz, topped the league four times in blocks per game, and its average of 5.6 per competition in 1984-85 remains the highest average since official tracking of that statistic began the NBA.
“He was so impressive,” said longtime NBA broadcaster Mike Inglis, now the radio voice of the intense heatsaid Saturday. “I called it the human condominium complex. It was something else in defense, let me tell you.”
Eaton’s career blocks an average of 3.51 per game and is the best in NBA history. His career happened almost by accident. He was working as an auto mechanic in 1977 when a community college basketball coach persuaded him to enroll. From there he went to UCLA and his stint at jazz followed.
His eleven seasons with jazz are behind the long-standing cornerstones of Utah, Karl Malone and John Stockton, third in team history. Its durability was notable as it appeared once in 338 consecutive games. He finished his career with an average of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Eaton’s # 53 was one of the first jerseys to be withdrawn from jazz. He was DPOY in 1984-85 and 1988-89, was a five-time all-defensive team pick – with three nods from the first team, two picks from the second team – and was an All-Star in 1989.
In his retirement he had been a restaurateur and motivational speaker, among other things. For the past several years he has served as a mentor for Central Utah Rudy Gobert – the only other player in jazz history to have received the Defensive Player of the Year award.
“To my great mentor and friend @ markeaton7ft4, a unique and amazing person, I am grateful for your presence in my life over the years.” Gobert posted on Twitter on Saturday. “I’ll miss our conversations. But I know you’ll watch.”
– Rudy Gobert (@ rudygobert27) May 29, 2021
Eaton’s death came days after he was in Chicago to attend the celebration for his friend Joe West, who broke the referee record for baseball in his 5,376th regular season game Tuesday night.
Eaton was taken over by Phoenix with the 107th vote in the 1979 draft, and in 1982 Utah moved back to 72nd place. And he never left again. His last game was in 1993; Back problems ended his career and he retired in September 1994.
“It’s been a great ride, but life has a way to go on and I have to get on with it,” Eaton wrote in a column for The Salt Lake Tribune announcing his retirement. “Thank you for letting me be part of your life and your community. I will be there.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.