He spent his entire 11-year NBA career coming to the aid of the only team he ever knew, the Jazz, and so it was understandable why Mark Eaton, well into retirement at this point, would eagerly bail them out again.
This was in 2014, and no, Utah didn’t ask a then-56-year-old to jump center. Instead, they wanted Eaton to help jump-start the next great Jazz defensive big man.
The player in question, Rudy Gobert, didn’t know his potential at the time. The team was unsure as well. Gobert was awkward, unschooled, troubled by poor footwork and raw instincts that needed sharpening. He was in his second NBA season and was sent down twice to the then-D-League as a rookie; hard to imagine that now, several years and two Kia Defensive Player of the Year awards later.
But, like Eaton, he had a wingspan that would make Boeing jealous. So there was a chance.
“Sure,” said Eaton.
So the former All-Star began working with Gobert on the defensive tricks of the big man trade. And what you see today with Gobert was in part made possible by the teacher who won’t be around to see if his pupil gets a third defensive award.
Eaton died suddenly Friday night, less than 24 hours before the Jazz tipped off Game 4 of their playoff series in Memphis. He was found in the middle of the street, near his home, his bicycle nearby. His loss weighed on the entire organization and community because Eaton was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and one-time All-Star who established the NBA record for most blocks in a season. He was the rim-protecting anchor of the first eight years of the Karl Malone-John Stockton era. And in retirement he was a man about town, watching Jazz games from the stands next to ordinary Joes, yet still towering over his neighbors like the local Wasatch Range.
His loss was also a shocker to Gobert, who played Saturday burdened by it.
“It’s tough,” Gobert admitted. “He’s someone I really appreciated. He was a great guy. I texted him a few days ago. He had a great career, but he’s an even better person. I learned a lot from him from just being around him. Definitely gonna be missed.”
News Source: NBA