Utah Jazz: Remembering The Great Center Mark Eaton

Every person has a special gift and innate ability that makes them valuable beyond measure. Since we all have specific roles and different assignments in our lives, it is our job to use our gifts to help, teach, and do other tasks that will ultimately help the people we serve to become great.

One of the greatest players in NBA history has had an impact so profound on the defensive side of the basketball that he has never averaged more than eight points in a season. The man I am talking about is one of the greatest centers in NBA history, Utah Jazz legend, Mark Eaton.

If you were born after 1990 then get ready to use Google because today we are taking a history lesson. For seasoned, long-time NBA fans they are familiar with Eaton’s story. For most who do not, here is a brief summary.

After graduating high school, Eaton did not initially play basketball. Instead he worked as a service technician in a garage. Eaton worked as an automobile mechanic for about three years, then shortly got discovered by an assistant coach of the Cypress Junior College basketball team. Eaton joined Cypress Junior College and played on their team for two years where he would eventually transfer to UCLA.

When Eaton made the decision to go from a small school to a major college basketball powerhouse, he had a huge adjustment, and it was tough. One day while running a pickup game in the summer with his teammates at UCLA, Wilt Chamberlain spotted the 7’4″, 275-pound Eaton and noticed some flaws in his game, and decided to give him words of wisdom that would forever change his life.

“Wilt grabbed me by the arm, took me out on the floor, position me right in front of the basket. 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 it.’ He said, ‘I’ve been watching you the past few days and I see the skill you have at defense.’ When Wilt shared that with me, everything changed.”

Any experience with a center like Chamberlain would change anyone’s game. Eaton listened and became better because he gave all of his focus and energy into playing defense.

Eventually Eaton ended up playing for the Utah Jazz after getting selected with the 72nd pick in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA Draft. The Jazz made one of their best decisions taking Eaton because he ended up becoming the defensive cornerstone that they sorely lacked.

Apr 14, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz players during the National Anthem prior to the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at EnergySolutions Arena. The Lakers won 119-104. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 14, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz players during the National Anthem prior to the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at EnergySolutions Arena. The Lakers won 119-104. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

As a 26-year-old rookie Eaton came off the bench and averaged 5.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks (that’s a serious number) per game.

Think of that 3.4 blocks per game stat for a second. New Orleans Pelicans All-Star center Anthony Davis led the NBA in blocks per game this year with 2.8 and still couldn’t get close to Eaton’s rookie numbers.

The 1982-83 Jazz were terrible and finished with a 30-52 record. But under the Eaton era in Utah, that was the last time they would miss the playoffs. The Jazz would make the playoffs for nine straight seasons from 1984-1993.

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Some of his accomplishments in the NBA are as followed:

  • 2× NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1985, 1989)
  • Highest blocks per game percentage in NBA history (3.5 per game)
  • 4× NBA blocks Leader (1984–1985, 1987–1988)
  • 3× NBA All-Defensive First Team (1985–1986, 1989)
  • 2× NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1987–1988)
  • NBA All-Star (1989)

One of the mind-blowing stats that I saw is that during his career is that Eaton had at least 19 games with 10 or more blocks. He even had multiple games with 14 blocks.

Who does that? I have never seen a center so dominant defensively, and I’m pretty upset because I don’t know if I ever will.

Even Jeremy Evans, the former Slam Dunk champion, knew about Eaton’s impact, he paid homage by allowing him to become a prop for one of his greatest dunks.

Because of his astounding impact on the Jazz franchise, they retired his No. 53 jersey.

Take this time to watch some of the amazing highlights that Eaton had as a professional. Don’t worry though, no pop up blockers on the screen when in the presence of Eaton.