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NBA Community Remembers Jazz Legend Mark Eaton

Former Jazz player Mark Eaton and coach Jerry Sloan talk prior to a Jazz game in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Several members of the NBA community extended their thoughts on the life and passing of Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton.

The former center went on a bike ride Friday evening and never returned home. Eaton was taken to the hospital after crashing where he later died.

After news of his death broke, members of the Jazz and the NBA community shared their memories of Eaton.

NBA Community Remembers Mark Eaton

Several teammates and opponents shared their memories of Eaton Saturday after news of his passing spread.

In Inside the NBA, Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith discussed Eaton’s life.

“I have been texting with Mark Eaton every day this week,” Barkley said of his longtime friend.

“[A producer] told me that Mark had passed away and that just broke my heart […] that guy right there was the ultimate gentle giant.”

O’Neal remembered playing against Eaton towards the end of his career which ended in 1993, Shaq’s rookie season in the NBA.

“I didn’t realize how tall he was until we played against them,” O’Neal said. He was tough. I used to give him that patented elbow sandwiches I give the guys, he never complained, never said anything. So my condolences go out to his family.”

Eaton led the NBA’s National Basketball Retired Players Association which helps players transition to retired life after basketball.

“A seven-foot-four, gentlemen, but a tenacious rebounded tenacious shot blocker,” Smith remembered. “And then you get off the court, he’d shake your hand and brush your shoulder off for you if you needed something.”

NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson sent his best wishes to the Eaton family.

“Rest in peace to former NBA player and Utah center Mark Eaton. Cookie and I are praying for his family,” Johnson tweeted.

Jazz Players React To Death Of Mark Eaton

Eaton remained a Utah resident and was a regular face at Jazz games after his retirement. After serving as a pre and postgame host for team broadcasts, Eaton formed relationships with many past and current members of the Jazz.

“To my great mentor and friend @markeaton7ft4 , one of kind and an amazing human being, i’m grateful for your presence in my life over the years,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert tweeted. “Gonna miss our conversations. But i know you’ll be watching.”

Eaton and Gobert are the only two players in Jazz history to earn the Defensive Player of the Year honor. Eaton won the award in 1985 and 1989, while Gobert won the award in 2018 and 2019.

Jazz guard Joe Ingles, the current longest-serving consecutive member of the Jazz also shared his thoughts on Eaton.

“Devastated to hear the passing of Mark Eaton, one of the nicest guys around,” Ingles tweeted. “Thoughts are with Teri & the rest of his family 😞🙏🏻.”

Team owner Ryan Smith also shared his memories of growing up watching Eaton play against NBA competition.

“Devastating news,” Smith tweeted. “As a kid, I grew up watching and cheering for big Mark. Thank you for the countless memories big man. Your legacy continues. RIP 🙏🏼🙏🏼.”

Former Jazz assistant coach Gordon Chiesa shared his memories of Eaton during his time with the team.

“Mark Eaton, former NBA Defensive Player of the Year was a friend, colleague and trusted spirit,” Chiesa tweeted. “I had the privilege to coach Mark with the Utah Jazz, and his humility will always be remembered. Westminster, Cali and UCLA proud, R.I.P. in shot blocking heaven. A giant of a man!”

Former Jazz forward and current team broadcaster Thurl Bailey tweeted the following:

“Mark Eaton… My Protector, my mentor, my friend, my brother. I’m devastated you’ve left us too soon. Thank you for what you left me.”

Eaton’s number was retired by the Jazz in 1996 after 11 seasons in the NBA. Eaton holds the NBA records for most blocked shots in a single season (456), highest career average in blocked shots (3.5), and highest single-season blocked shot average at 5.6 per game.

Eaton was 64 years old.

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