The Big Inductee: Eaton into Utah Sports Hall of Fame
He can remember his very first media conference call quite vividly, as he should. It was on a hallway pay phone next to the now-retired Claimjumper restaurant on Main Street in 1982.
Mark Eaton, the 7-foot-4 mechanic turned UCLA Bruin turned star NBA center, was inducted in to the Utah Sports Hall of Fame last Wednesday.
The former Utah Jazz center and longtime Summit County resident took the bow in front of family and friends, coaches and mentors Frank Layden, Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson, and most importantly Tom Lubin, the assistant basketball coach who convinced Eaton to ditch the wrenches and lug nuts and clog up the paint and block shots.
"It’s a great honor," Eaton said.
Growing up in Southern California, Eaton was a guy interested in the beach and water polo, more so than the hardwood.
Lubin was the one who discovered Eaton after he had been working as an auto mechanic for about three years, and convinced him to try out for the Cypress Junior College basketball team. He would develop a skill set and eventually transfer to UCLA.
After playing sparingly in his two years with the Bruins, Eaton was viewed as a long-term project at the next level. The Jazz and Frank Layden saw a diamond in the rough and drafted him in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA Draft.
"What makes this even more special is that it’s even more remarkable because the Jazz were such a poor team when I came here," Eaton said. "Since my time there, there has been such a great culture of that team and franchise that has carried over up to today."
The Silver Creek resident is fourth all-time in the NBA for blocks in a career (3,064) behind only Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice (1985, 1989) and still holds the NBA record for highest average of blockers per game (3.5) in a season.
The love affair between Eaton and Park City began in 1982 when he was flown out to Utah, driven to the brand-new Jeremy Ranch development, to sign his first NBA contract.
"They drove me to the Jeremy Ranch clubhouse and that’s where I signed," Eaton said.
The towering Eaton, who had been used to the fast-paced lifestyle of Los Angeles and Southern California, became enamored with the tranquility Park City presented.
"I loved it," he said. "I fell in love with it. I’ve always been one for the outdoors and, growing up near the beach, the mountains always intrigued me. I got to ride my mountain bike, go fishing and enjoy it all."
As the Jazz franchise became transformed with the likes of Sloan, John Stockton and Karl Malone, Eaton’s on-the-court presence continued to grow, as did his calm and collected lifestyle in the Jeremy Ranch area, where he purchased his first home in Utah.
Eaton recalls going to Main Street early on in his career to set-up a "party line" conference call.
"I was from Southern California. We already had call-waiting out there and everything," he said, laughing.
Eaton’s 11-year career came to an abrupt end in 1993 due to lingering back problems. In his time with the Jazz, Utah went to the playoffs 10 times.
In the nearly two decades since he’s hung up his sneakers, Eaton has made his way into other ventures. Eaton is part-owner in two restaurants, Tuscany, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in South Salt Lake and Francks, a French restaurant in Holladay.
He is also a motivational and business speaker. His website (http://www.7ft4.com ) showcases Eaton’s guest-speaking skills. The motto on the website reads, "Stand Tall. Play Big."
His current residence in Silver Creek features a few acres of horse property. While he is California born, his home will always be Park City.
"This place helped me maintain my sanity," Eaton said. "It helped me get away from the cities, from the NBA lifestyle. It helped me focus on my job."
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Park City officials are preparing to take what is considered to be an important step in protecting the Treasure land from wildfires. City Hall in early June requested proposals from firms interested in the work.