Woke up this morning to the stunning news that my lifelong friend and hero, NBA All-Star, and world-class Speaker, Mark Eaton, CSP, had suddenly passed away following a bike accident near his Park City, UT home last night.
Still not wrapping my mind around this, I went to my texts and thought of just texting him to see if it was true…but then scoured the internet for confirmation, as it was nowhere on Facebook, ESPN, CNN, or other outlets. Finally located enough resources that it appeared it was true and posted a few different posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter to alert our Speaker peers of this great man’s passing.
The stories of love, admiration, and honor came pouring in from around the world as news outlets shared the shocking news of Big Mark’s untimely death.
Here are links to a few of the wonderful tributes they are paying to the legendary 7’4″ Giant of a man, Giant heart, from throughout the globe, and surely many more will be shared in the coming days.
This video was very touching from the Inside The NBA Crew:
Here is what I shared on social media, with links to go and comment if you’d like to share a story about Mark as well.
In my now out of print book, “Signature Moves”, I shared the following story about Mark when talking about Heroes and Mentors among us:
One of my great heroes growing up was Mark Eaton. If you watched NBA basketball in the 1980s you’ll remember Big Mark. At 7-foot-4 and 290 pounds, he’s one of the tallest, biggest men ever to play pro basketball. As luck had it, when he came to Utah out of UCLA to play for the Jazz, he moved into a house just around the corner from our family at Jeremy Ranch near Park City. As a young boy, I looked up to Mark in more ways than one. He was the defensive force on those great Jazz teams of John Stockton and Karl Malone. After Mark retired and the Jazz hung his big #53 jersey in the rafters, he became a motivational speaker. He’s in big demand at corporations all around America and the story that resonates most is one he tells about a five-minute conversation he had when he was discouraged and convinced he’d never make it in basketball.
Even though he was taller than everyone else, Mark was a latecomer to the game and wasn’t recruited to play at UCLA, the noted college powerhouse, until he’d already spent a few years as the world’s tallest auto mechanic, followed by a couple of years at a junior college.
To get ready to play at UCLA, he went to the gym during the summer to compete with some of the area’s top collegians. At these scrimmages he grew more and more frustrated at not being able to keep up with the shorter, faster players. Time after time he would chase a quick guard the length of the floor, only to be outdistanced in the race to the basket, where the smaller guy would score before he got there. Thinking he was way out of his league, he took a break and slumped into a seat in the stands. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder—a large hand, as large as his own. When he looked up, Wilt Chamberlain was standing over him. Wilt the Stilt, the game’s legendary 7-footer who once scored 100 points in a game.
Chamberlain took a seat next to Mark and told him he’d been watching him play. Then he gave him some advice. He told him he was never going to catch the small, quick guards. They were faster than he was. And he wasn’t going to score as many points as them. But all that doesn’t matter, he said, “Because that’s not your job.”
Wilt pointed toward the basket. “See that?” he gestured. “Your job is to stop players from getting there.” He explained that Mark’s particular skill, his unique talent, wasn’t to score points or to race down the floor. It was to stop other people from scoring.
“I wasn’t that fast, I wasn’t that good at scoring, but I did have a talent to prevent others from scoring goals, and it took a Wilt Chamberlain to tell me that,” is how Big Mark says it in his speech. “I stopped running around trying to do everything and instead focused on the one thing I could be great at and I went on to become one of the great defensive players in the NBA. Four years later that five-minute conversation took me to breaking the NBA record for blocked shots in a single year, 456, which is still a record today; to a 12-year NBA career during which I was named defensive player of the year twice; and in 1989 I was named an All-Star.”
Commitment No. 1, he stresses, is “Know your job.”
What a great message, not just for 7-foot-4 basketball players, but for all of us. We all need to focus on what makes us great and concentrate on that.
It was one of the thrills of my life when I spoke in New York City a couple of years ago and came off the stage at the Marriott Marquis Hotel and a huge hand grabbed me from the shoulder from behind. I turned around, looked up, and there was my boyhood idol and neighbor, big Mark Eaton, congratulating me on my presentation. He too was on the program that day, about to take the stage himself.
In early 2020 Ross Bernstein arranged a dinner while he was in Utah as friends and couples to get together and enjoy each other’s company. Once dinner wrapped up I hesitatingly did something I never asked Mark to do in public: Sign a Jersey for me.
Actually, it was for my son, Redford’s birthday, who has Mark’s poster in his room.
Mark laughed when he saw the jersey as he realized I had purchased the most expensive and rarest one. He happily signed it and said, “That’s a nice jersey!”
I said, “Sorry to ask you to do that, my friend. I know it’s not appropriate in a setting like this.”
To which he replied, “You never ask me to sign anything. And I think you know the kind of stuff I’ve had to sign…”
As we all laughed out loud.
A few weeks later, Mark and I found ourselves landing in Orlando, FL, he from his last event and me from Budapest.
As we were ushered into a room with a stack of 500 copies of our books that had been pre-purchased by an incredible client, Verl and Bri Workman, Co-Founders of the real estate coaching world’s best company, Workman Success Systems, we sat and laughed about how long it would take us.
Mark had signed so many things in his life, he cranked through it in under an hour.
My hand about to fall off, we made a funny video about it that I’ve never shared before:
His book, The Four Commitments of a Winning Team, had been a Best-Selling book (which he committed to becoming a best-seller and worked it like I’ve never seen anyone do for a first time book), that was read and promoted by NBA Legends worldwide (and if you haven’t read it, you should, it’s incredible, I bought 20 of them for my friends to give as gifts), and for him signing these 500 copies was just another day at the office.
My book, “The Promise To The One” had yet to be launched, and it was the first time I’d done something like this, so it was fun to me to see the contrast of our lives intersecting yet again.
The next day, he stood up on stage, first to gasps from an audience who had never seen someone that tall in person, and eventually to an audience giving him a standing ovation following one of the finest presentations they had ever witnessed.
The beauty of this moment was that I had seen the entire arc of his speaking career, from a guy who was not good at all the first few years, to the professional who doggedly demanded he pay whatever financial cost and spent every second perfecting his message, to get coaching, training, and become great as a Keynote Speaker.
This might be my favorite Mark Eaton story. He was truly the most Coachable person I’ve ever known. A guy who was a car mechanic and didn’t play basketball, to being coached into leading the NBA in blocks, defense, and becoming an All-Star. Not every tall person can just play basketball and be great at it. Have their jersey retired in the rafters with the Utah Jazz! He truly exemplified what it takes to achieve greatness through coaching.
And then as a Speaker. He worked himself ragged. Flying all over the country, squeezing into an airplane, it was like watching a comedy act when he’d fold himself into a regional jet seat to get to some low paying event in a town too far away to drive to.
And yet, there he was, putting in the reps, doing the work, smile on his face, always ready to improve.
And eventually he got better on stage, more comfortable, had great timing and incredible stories, his humor always hit, his fee kept going up.
In the Speaking community, he is spoken of as a Hall of Fame level Speaker, as those who are the most critical in our industry refer him time and time again because they know he’s one of the best working today.
Mark is one of The Great success stories of all-time.
Mark is one of The Great people of all-time.
Mark is the type of Sports Hero turned Motivational Speaker you want to meet and just pray he’s as nice as he seems…and then you’re stunned to engage with him and realize that he’s nicer, and funnier, and better as a person off stage than he was in his greatness on stage.
It is now middle of the day, Saturday, and I have felt a gaping hole in my heart since learning of his passing 5 hours ago.
How do you replace someone like Mark Eaton? It’s an impossible void to fill.
But what you can do is Keep The Promise to be like Mark, because no one I know lived to keep his commitments, strove to excellence, against all odds, and always with such optimism, grace, and humility, even when the world was staring up at him passing by, as Big Mark Eaton.
I always looked up to him, everyone did, literally! But not just because he was a giant in stature, but because he was a Giant of a Man.
Love you, Brother.
~ Jason Hewlett
* The Promise Institute Co-Founder
* Promise Culture Keynote Speaker
* Speaker Hall of Fame
Author of “The Promise To The One”