SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KUTV) — Former Utah Jazz player and two-time NBA defensive player of the year Mark Eaton has died. 2 News learned of his passing from two sources close to Eaton.
Eaton went for a bike ride around 8 p.m. Friday in Summit County and did not return home.
The Utah Jazz in a statement on Twitter said he was a "great man, mentor, athlete and staple of the community. Eaton played his entire 11-year career with the Jazz and is fourth in the NBA all time in blocks with 3,064.
Officials with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office said a person reported finding an unconscious man on the road in the Silver Creek Estates neighborhood at 8:26 p.m.
Deputies and emergency medical crews responded to the scene. Eaton was transported to the hospital where he passed away.
Officials said it appeared Eaton had crashed his bike, but the exact cause of the crash was unknown. No foul play was suspected, and they said there was no indication of a vehicle being involved.
The Gail Miller family, owners of the Jazz during Eaton's time with the team released the following statement:
We are deeply saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of our dear friend and basketball great, Mark Eaton. One of the most imposing defensive players in NBA history, he was a giant of a man in more than just stature. Mark was a pillar of our community who adopted Utah as his home and was deeply committed to the Utah Jazz. Our family treasures the times we shared with him and send our deepest sympathies to his loved ones.
The NBA also released a statement saying: "We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and many friends."
The Utah Jazz organization released a statement saying they were heartbroken. It read:
The Utah Jazz are profoundly saddened at the unexpected passing of Mark Eaton, who was an enduring figure in our franchise history and had a significant impact in the community after his basketball career. Mark played his entire 11-year NBA career with the Jazz and his number was retired as an NBA All-Star and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. His presence continued around the organization as a friend and ambassador while giving back as a businessman and volunteer to his adopted hometown in Utah. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Teri and their extended family. Mark will be greatly missed by all of us with the Jazz.
Eaton played for the Utah Jazz from 1982-1993. He was an All-Star in 1989 and was voted the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1989. He was listed as 7' 4'' and 275 pounds in his playing days.
Eaton played in 875 games, scored 5,216 points, grabbed 6,939 rebounds along with his 3,064 blocked shots. He led the NBA in blocks in 1984, '85, '86 and '88. He holds the record for the most blocks in a season, collecting 456, and career average blocked shots per game with 3.5.
Eaton retired in 1993 and then owned two restaurants, Tuscan's and Franck's in Holladay. His jerser was retired by the the Jazz in 1995-96 season.
After retiring he made Summit County his home and launched a career as a motivational speaker and an author, including his book, "The Four Commitments of a Winning Team."
Eaton has a story that many people can relate to and shared with KUTV in 2018.
At 21, he was working as an auto mechanic and at 7 feet 4 inches tall, people would always tell him he should be playing basketball.
"That used to really irritate me because as a young man, I didn't go around telling everybody else what they should be doing with their life, and why were they in my business?" Eaton said.
One day Tom Lubin, a junior college basketball coach, came into the tire shop where Eaton worked.
"He said, 'I can show you some things about basketball you haven't seen before,'" Eaton recalled.
It took some convincing, but eventually Eaton agreed to head to the gym with him after work to learn from Lubin.
"After about four months of doing that, I said, 'All right, I'll try this thing for one year and give junior college a chance.'" Eaton said. "After one year, I had enough success where I decided I better get serious about this."
KUTV will continue to update this story.