PARK CITY, Utah, May 29, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — NBA fans in Utah and across the world are mourning the death of retired Jazz basketball legend, Mark Eaton.
Eaton, 64, was killed in an apparent bicycle accident not far from his Park City area home Friday night, according to a statement by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
The Utah Jazz responded to the shocking news with an online statement, posting on Twitter, “We are heartbroken by the passing of Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton. Our thoughts are with his family as we all mourn the loss of a great man, mentor, athlete and staple of the community,” the Jazz organization posted online Saturday.
The National Basketball Association also commented, saying “The NBA mourns the passing of Mark Eaton, a Utah Jazz legend and former president of the Retired Players Association. 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 NBA said.
First responders were dispatched to a residence on Long Rifle Road at 8:15 p.m. with reports of a man in full arrest. A medical helicopter was called in, but before the chopper arrived the decision was made to take Eaton by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office said dispatchers “received a 911 call from a citizen who reported finding an unconscious man lying in the roadway on Long Rifle Road, in the Silver Creek Estates neighborhood of Summit County. It appears the man was riding a bicycle and crashed. The man has been identified as Summit County resident, 64-year-old former Utah Jazz player, Mark Eaton.”
“Deputies and medical personnel arrived on scene – Mr. Eaton was transported to a hospital. Unfortunately, we learned that Mr. Eaton passed away at the hospital,” the statement said. “There were no witnesses to the bicycle crash, and there is no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the incident. The Utah Office of the Medical Examiner will determine the cause of Mr. Eaton’s death.
“The Summit County Sheriff’s Office offers our sincere condolences to the Eaton family, the Utah Jazz family, and friends of Mark. The family has requested privacy while they mourn his untimely death. ”
Drafted by the Jazz in 1982, the beloved 7 foot 4 inch Jazz center was a top NBA defensive player and spent his entire pro basketball career in Utah.
The news comes while the Jazz are in the middle of a first round playoff battle against the Memphis Grizzlies. The team is scheduled to play Saturday night in Memphis.
Eaton’s ascension to the top ranks of the NBA is a true Cinderella story. In 1977, at age 21, he was working as an auto mechanic with no real basketball experience when he was discovered by an assistant coach from Cypress College, whose car he was repairing. The coach recruited Eaton to play ball at the community college, where he soon showed great potential. Gaining the attention of NBA scouts, he was a fifth round draft pick by the Phoenix Suns in 1979. Eaton, however, opted to stay in college, transferring to U.C.L.A.
In 1983, the Utah Jazz under coach Frank Layton took a chance on Eaton, who saw limited playing time as a Bruin, but would ultimately emerge as one of strongest defensive players in NBA history. A notorious shot-blocker, Eaton still holds the record for highest average number of blocks per game, swatting 3.5 shots per contest over a ten year plus span. He blocked a total of 3,064 shots overall.
After his 1993 retirement, Eaton provided analysis and color commentary about the Jazz on KJZZ TV. He also covered the University of Utah’s men’s basketball team.
Outside of basketball, Eaton was a partner in the ownership of the popular Tuscany Restaurant in Salt Lake City, and was also a noted motivational speaker.
Eaton is survived by his wife and children.
Gephardt Daily will update this story as more information becomes available.