Mark Eaton to Speak at 100 Mile Club Fundraiser

September 19, 2012

Mark Eaton, an NBRPA member, will be speaking October 4th at the 100 Mile Club for a fundraiser. This fundraiser will promote exercise at schools. The 100 Mile Club provides the opportunity to run or walk 100 miles at school during a single school year which improves school readiness to learn, creates better educational outcomes, building self-esteem and the overall health in the lives of children and others. As a friend and supporter of The 100 Mile Club, Mark will share his story to help raise funds to support the increasing need to combat childhood inactivity and obesity.

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Mark has become a prominent speaker for businesses, children, and many more after his playing days in Utah. He recently sat down with NBRPA Intern, Jitim Young, for a Q&A about basketball and his career after playing.

Q: You are one of the tallest players to ever play in the NBA at 7foot-4.  Growing up as a kid what were your experiences both good and bad being so tall?

Mark Eaton:  Being tall was a challenge growing up.  I wasn’t that coordinated, kids called me “Lurch.”  It was a little bit of a challenge and with being tall came expectations about basketball. Those two don’t necessarily hand-in-hand, so you feel out of place.  You have these expectations on you to be something that you weren’t.

Q: After high school (Westminster) you attended Arizona Automotive Institute to be a service technician.  How long did it take for you to graduate from the automotive institute and why didn’t you go straight to college for basketball out of high school?

Mark Eaton: In high school, I didn’t play much (basketball) – I sat the bench.  Afterwards I felt that was the end of sports and attended trade school in Arizona to be an auto mechanic.  It took me a year to finish school.  My father was a mechanic, so I knew about wrenches and had worked on boats with my dad.

Q: You were are in Anaheim working as an auto mechanic and you meet Tom Lubin, who was a chemistry professor and assistant basketball coach at Cypress Junior College.  What did he say to convince you to attend Cypress and play basketball?

Mark Eaton: After finishing trade school in Arizona, I moved back to California.  I got a job at a Cadillac dealership, which I thought was pretty cool … but after about a month I got fired.  I then worked with a friend of mine, doing work on tires.  After a while they allowed me to do mechanic work.  I worked there a year and a half or two years and that’s when Tom Lubin started talking to me about giving basketball another try.  I told [Lubin] to get lost at first, but then decided to listen to what he had to say.  He told me he could teach me how to play basketball like a big man, and the value of being a big man as a vital part to a team.  Most importantly, his commitment to me also persuaded me.  If I wanted to work out at 6 a.m.,  he would be there … if I worked out at 8 p.m., he would be there.  I had never been around anyone like that.  Coach [Lubin] was with me every step of the way, and he still is.

Q: You progressed quickly and led Cypress to a Junior College state championship and then got drafted in 1979 by the Phoenix Suns in the fifth round.  Why didn’t you decide to start your NBA career then?

Mark Eaton: That was a wake-up call.  It was after my first year of junior college.  The rule back then was, if your class had graduated, whether you were in school or not, you were eligible for the NBA draft.  It wasn’t a guarantee to make the team, and if you did make it, you would earn $30,000.  I was already getting $20,000 as an auto mechanic.  It didn’t make logical sense to go to the NBA.  It did motivate me to work harder; because I knew [NBA Scouts] were noticing me.

Q: In 1980, you opted out of the draft, returned to college to attend UCLA, but you experienced some tough times there as a basketball player.  You played a total of 42 minutes in 11 games.  Can you talk about that point in your career?

Mark Eaton: What went through my mind at UCLA during this time was: ‘I made a mistake, went to the wrong school, my career is over, and this isn’t going to work out. ‘

Q: The great Wilt Chamberlain gave you some advice about being a quality big man and helped your basketball career.  What was his advice for you?  What was your relationship with Wilt Chamberlain?

Mark Eaton: Wilt Chamberlain pulled me to the side and said block some shots and get rebounds, instead of chasing little guards.  Stand under the basket and make people go around you to shoot.  Make people jump over you.  My junior college coach told me, 'I understand the coach isn’t playing you, but you need to get in the gym and work.  Hit the weight room, do some shooting, and running.  An NBA team will give you an opportunity.'  That’s what I did … shot my 200 hook shots and 200 bank shots. I ran suicides, hit the weights, stayed strong and kept keeping my game somewhat together.  I was the first guy in practice and the last to leave.  That five minute conversation with Wilt changed my life.

Q: You were again drafted in 1982 in the fourth round to Utah and went on to the NBA. What was that experience like and how did you find success?

Mark Eaton: I played in a couple tryout camps, one in Cincinnati and another in Jersey City.  A couple of scouts watched me.  My junior college coach and I called the Utah Jazz because they were a bad team.  The head coach and general manager, Frank Layden, answered the phone.  Coach Layden didn’t know who I was, so I gave him a highlight tape from UCLA (which he said was really short).  He came out and watched me play in the summer league in Southern California and saw just enough raw talent to give me a chance for a year.  He told me that I had to work with Utah’s strength and conditioning coaches, and work with the Jazz coaching staff.  I was there a month before everyone else had to report to training camp.  He guaranteed my first contract for $45,000, so I worked my butt off and by February, I was the starting center.  The biggest thing for me was getting an opportunity to play.

Q: Your rookie year, you finished third in blocks behind Wayne “Tree” Rollins and Bill Walton. In your second season, you helped lead the Jazz to its first ever playoff appearance, and in your third season, you were Defensive Player of the Year, led the league in blocks with 5.6 per game and ranked fifth in rebounding at 11.3rpg.  What did you do to improve your game each year? 

Mark Eaton:  Frank Layden coached me on what it is to be a professional on and off the court.  He told me not to make the same mistakes twice.  I never took more than a week off after the season.  I hit the weight room hard because if I was to have a chance in the NBA,I felt I had to be the strongest guy.  Frank's’ philosophy was to anchor me at the defensive end, which helped my confidence.  Frank wanted 60 percent fast break points, centered by tenacious defense.  He helped guys understand that if we looked to help each other out on the floor as a team, it would make us all look good.  We had four statistical leaders in the NBA in 1984-85 – Adrian Dantley led the NBA in scoring, Rickey Green led the NBA in steals, Darryl Griffith lead the NBA in three-point shooting, and I led the NBA in blocked shots.

Q: What have you been up too since your playing days?

Mark Eaton: I have been involved in the restaurant business for 17 years.  I have two fine restaurants in Salt Lake City.  One is called Tuscany the other is called Francks.  Tuscany is northern Italian food.  We do a double-cut marinated pork chop in which we soak it in molasses for three days. We cook it on a hard wood grill, and finish in a wood burning oven.  We also have a seven-foot-four chocolate cake.  Francks is more of a Bistro.  Francks is a smaller restaurant that’s based off presentation.  The chef is from France.

I also did some broadcasting for the Utah Jazz.  I ran youth programs for a long time.  The last five years I have really focused on business speaking.  I have this unusual story that I turned into a presentation called “The Four Commitments of a Winning Team.”

Q: With your speaking engagements, what topics do you tend to speak about?

Mark Eaton:  The Four Commitments of a Winning Team focuses on getting rid of internal competition in your business.  Most businesses need to get everyone going in the same direction.  In basketball, when coach drew up a play, that’s what you have to do to execute.  I focus on your job, being a part of a team is to make your teammates look good, which in turn makes everyone look good.  What is your specialty? You need to understand your role. I also discuss execution in business –  your job isn’t to do the best, but to do what the customer wants.  I talk about protecting your teammate.  No one in business really looks out for each other.  On the court, I told teammates to go for the steal because I got your back.  It was trust, because if someone got beat it was no finger pointing saying “that’s your man.” So it’s really taking what I did well on the court and translating it to the business world.

Q: If fans or members of the NBRPA wanted to know more about you and the great things you are doing in public speaking and the restaurant industry, how can they get more information?

Mark Eaton: Just go to