The team announced her death on Saturday but did not give a cause or details, only saying it was “unexpected”.
The Jazz described him in a statement as an “enduring figure in the history of our franchise” who had “a significant impact in the community following his basketball career.”
The center has led the league in blocks per game on four occasions and its 5.6 per game average in 1984-85 remains the highest average since the NBA began officially tracking that statistic.
Eaton’s career block average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history, and his career happened almost by accident. He was working as an auto mechanic in 1977 when a community college basketball coach persuaded him to enroll. From there he went to UCLA, and his stint with Jazz followed.
“I had an unusual background,” Eaton said for a story posted on Jazz’s website two years ago. “It’s an unlikely story to be sure. Basically, I entered the NBA with two years of college experience and sat on the bench at UCLA for two years. And Frank Layden gave me a chance and the team was in a space where they could afford to let me make mistakes and put my feet under me. It worked out well for both of us. “
Eaton had been, among other things, a restaurateur and motivational speaker after his retirement. In recent years he has served as a mentor to central Utah Rudy Gobert – the only other player in Jazz history to have won the defensive player of the year award.
“He was so impressive,” longtime NBA broadcaster Mike Inglis, now the radio voice of the Miami Heat, said on Saturday. “I called it the human condominium complex. He was something else in defense, let me tell you.
Eaton’s death came days after he was in Chicago to be part of the celebration for his friend Joe West, who broke baseball’s umpire record playing his 5,376th regular-season game on Tuesday night.
His 11 seasons of play with Jazz are third in team history, behind longtime Utah stalwarts Karl Malone and John Stockton. His durability was remarkable, having appeared once in 338 straight games. He finished with career averages of 6.0 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Eaton’s # 53 was one of the first jerseys retired by Jazz. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1984-85 and 1988-89, was called to the All-Defensive squad five times – three first-team caps, two second-team picks – and was All-Star in 1989.
He was taken with the 107th overall pick by Phoenix in the 1979 Draft, then drafted at No.72 overall by Utah in 1982. And he’s never gone; his last match was in 1993, but back problems ended his career and he retired in September 1994.
“It’s been a great race, but life has a way to go on and I have to keep going with it,” Eaton wrote in a column for The Salt Lake Tribune in which he announced his retirement. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life and your community. I will be there.
True to his word, Eaton remained a mainstay of Utah for the rest of his life.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports