Former Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton died following a bicycle crash in Summit County, authorities said Saturday.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office received a call Friday just before 8:30 p.m. MT that an unconscious man was found lying in the road in the Silver Creek Estates neighborhood. The man was determined to be Eaton, a tweet from the agency said.
Authorities believe that Eaton, 64, was riding through the neighborhood when he crashed. There were no witnesses and “there is no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the incident,” deputies said.
Eaton was taken to a hospital where he later died. The cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner’s office.
“We are heartbroken by the passing of Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton,” the Utah Jazz said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family as we all mourn the loss of a great man, mentor, athlete and staple of the community.”
Eaton, a center, spent his entire career with the Jazz, 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.
“He was so impressive,” longtime NBA broadcaster Mike Inglis said Saturday. “I used to call him the human condominium complex. He was something else on defense, let me tell you.”
Eaton’s career blocks average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history, and 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 with the Jazz followed.
“I had an unusual background,” Eaton said for a story published on the Jazz website two years ago. “It’s an unlikely story to be sure. I basically came into the NBA with two years of junior college experience and sat on the bench at UCLA for two years. And Frank Layden gave me a chance and the team was in a space where they could afford to let me make some mistakes out there and get my feet underneath me. It worked out well for both of us.”
Eaton had been, among other things, a restaurateur and motivational speaker in his retirement. In recent years, he served as a mentor to Utah center Rudy Gobert — the only other player in Jazz history to win the defensive player of the year award.
His 11 playing seasons with the Jazz are third-most in team history, behind longtime Utah cornerstones Karl Malone and John Stockton. His durability was noteworthy, with him once appearing in 338 consecutive games. He finished with career averages of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.
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 — three first-team nods, two second-team picks — and was an All-Star in 1989.
He was taken with the 107th overall pick by Phoenix in the 1979 draft, then drafted again at No. 72 overall by Utah in 1982. And he never left; his last game was in 1993, but back problems ended his career and he retired in September 1994.
The NBA remembered the athlete as a “legend.”
“Mark was an All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and beloved member of our league. We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and many friends,” the league said in a tweet.
Current Utah Jazz player Joseph Ingles said Eaton was “one of the nicest guys around.”
Former NBA player Vernon Maxwell tweeted: “Sorry to hear about Jazz legend Mark Eaton. He was one helluva shot blocker. RIP big guy.”