Jay C. Brandriet
While driving this morning, I heard the news that Mark Eaton had passed away. I reached out to a few people, and got swept up in some memories.
The first time the Utah Jazz really put the NBA world on notice was 1988. This up and coming group pushed the mighty Lakers to a seventh game.
The fold out cover inside of “Sports Illustrated ” said it all.
It was a picture of a flustered Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. with his eyes toward the rim. Pressing against him was a 7’4″, mountain of a man. Mark Eaton.
The caption read, “Look who’s looking up.”
Eaton could make an impact by just standing there. He was the first guy I ever associated with the “altered shot.”
He anchored classic Jazz teams that featured Adrian Dantley, John Stockton, and Karl Malone.
Eaton could rebound, outlet pass, and ran well for his size.
His resume is nice.
He was the Defensive Player of the Year twice. He was also named to five All-NBA defensive teams. Eaton was selected by the coaches to be an All-Star in 1989.
He led the league in blocks four times.
His 5.6 per game in 1984-85, remains the gold standard.
Nobody has more than his 10 swats in a playoff game.
His 3.5 blocks per game, is the highest average in history.
Eaton is one of the greatest defensive players of all time.
There is some irony regarding Big Mark’s career in Salt Lake City. The fans were slow to appreciate him. During his prime, general conversations about Mark would be negative.
“He can’t shoot or score.”
“He’s clumsy and uncoordinated.”
“He’s only good because he’s tall.”
It wasn’t long after his playing days, those same fans had soaked in his impact. They see Mark as a Utah Jazz legend.
Eaton knew this. He had a good approach to it all. He would say, “It seems the longer I’m retired, the better I was.”
I met Mark at Sportsman’s Warehouse in 1992. He was a customer looking for a backpack. I was an annoying teenager obsessed with the NBA. Over the next 45 minutes, he learned my firm opinion on the Olajuwon/Ewing debate. He was gracious. As he walked away, his backpack looked like baby Yoda taking a ride on Chewbacca.
I was around him over the years on Jazz game nights. I interviewed him a handful of times, but never knew the man on a personal level.
Mark used to do a spot on “Sports beat Sunday” with Craig Bolerjack. My buddy Russ Riggs would get a kick out of the big voice saying, “WITH OUR OWN CENTER OF ATTENTION…MARK EATON.”
How about the old commercial where Mark says, “If it intimidates you to have someone my size in your face, imagine how your kid feels when your in his.”
It’s now 2007. The Jazz had announced they were retiring Adrian Dantley’s jersey number. I was sitting next to Ben Bagley as he was interviewing Eaton. They had gone to break and I stood up to go grab something. Mark said, “you know, I still have that backpack you sold me.”
Fifteen years later he brings this up. It made me feel good that he’d remembered. It was also better than him saying I’d sold him garbage.
In a life where people couldn’t leave him alone, Eaton seemed to have the right qualities to handle it.
He made an impact in my community.
Props to you big Mark. Rest in peace.
Jay C. Brandriet