The story of All-Star and Utah Jazz legend Mark Eaton is as inspirational as it gets. Eaton wasn’t talented at a young age, so he was a reserve on his high school basketball team. After graduation, Mark started to work as an auto mechanic. Still, at the age of 21, he was discovered by an assistant coach at Cypress College, who talked Eaton into playing basketball, so Eaton committed to the community college.
Soon he transferred to play basketball for the UCLA Bruins and was drafted in the fourth round of the 1982 draft by the Utah Jazz. However, Eaton wasn’t high on confidence after becoming an NBA player. One talk with the all-time great Wilt Chamberlain changed it all.
“I was feeling sorry for myself, and I was thinking that maybe I just can’t play at this level. And at that moment, I feel a large hand on my shoulder, and it’s Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the best basketball player that ever lived. Wilt retired from the NBA a few years earlier, and every afternoon he would come down and watch the younger players workout. Wilt said to me, ‘First of all, young fella, you would never going to catch that guy, and more importantly, it’s not your job.’ He took me under the basket and said, ‘Your job is to stop players getting here. Your job is to make them miss their shot, get the rebound, throw it up to the guard, let them go on the other end, and score. Your job is to cruise down the halfcourt and see what’s going on.‘ I liked this part. He said,’I’ve been watching you, and I see the skill you have at defense. This is what you need to focus on.” Eaton said.Mark Eaton, CLNS
Mark was inspired and more determined than ever after the talk with Wilt the Stilt. He took Chamberlain’s words seriously, and he dedicated his craft to become a ruthless defender.
“When Wilt shared that with me, everything changed. I understood what I needed to do. I understood what I can be great at. I wasn’t that fast, I wasn’t that good at scoring, but I did have a talent for preventing others from scoring. And it took Wilt Chamberlain to see it. I stopped running around trying to do everything and instead focused on one thing I could be great at. And I went on to become one of the great defensive players in the NBA.”Mark Eaton, CLNS
Defense was Eaton’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner – he became a shot-blocking machine and racked up 456 blocks in the 1984-85 season. That is still a record in the NBA. Eaton also holds the highest average of blocks per game with 5.56. His defensive displays helped Utah Jazz transform into a contender, and he also became an All-Star in 1989.
It’s fascinating how a single interaction can change someone’s destiny. We often see players roam around the league, and then suddenly, things fall into place. As it was with Mark Eaton, it’s often about finding your identity on the court – knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not. Coaches often ask players to be the star in their role, but sometimes it takes a word from one of the greatest to understand what that role is.
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