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Bits from Mark Eaton Interview, 8/27

August 28, 2014
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eaton

How are things?
Things are great. I’ve spent the last seven or eight years kinda building this business doing motivational speaking and corporate training, and it’s going very well. I’m speaking about 60 times a year right now. …

Did you ever experience nerves or anxiety?

Oh yeah. Always nervous. I mean, I’m not exactly the extrovert to begin with, and, so, to get up in front of a room of 300 people,* and, you know, it’s one thing to play basketball in front of them or talk on TV or the radio, but to actually deliver a message that they’re gonna listen to for an hour and actually take something away from was a little intimidating.

But I worked hard at it, and found the right people to help me and develop the message that really has impact and some good takeaways, and so it’s been going very well. But yeah, it was definitely, took me probably 200 times before I finally got over the anxiety.*

* UDQM.

You were working as an auto mechanic when you were “discovered” to play basketball. Did you love the game of basketball?
Well, I didn’t as a young man. When I was in high school, I sat on the bench and, at Westminster High School, and didn’t play much, and honestly just thought that was the end of athletics and it was time to go do something else.

And went to trade school in Arizona for a year to be an auto mechanic–my father is a diesel mechanic–and then I was working in a tire store at Lincoln and Knott–they’re right down the street from Cypress College–and I’d been there about a year and a half when a junior college assistant coach came buzzing around the corner and saw me standing out there talking to this customer, and said, “Whoa, who is that big guy?”*

And he came in, and over a period of a couple of months, convinced me to go out on the basketball court with him for just about 30 minutes, and show me some things he could teach me. And he had some experience working with big men, and convinced me to give basketball one more shot.

So I went back to school at age 21, and spent two years at Cypress College, and, with him, and then two years at UCLA, which didn’t go very well. But eventually, we marketed ourselves to the Jazz and they gave us a shot.

Have you ever thought about what your life would be like if you hadn’t been outside the tire store that day?

Well, you know, I was perfectly happy doing what I was doing, and I’d probably own a tire store in northern California somewhere or something. That was my big dream, was like, maybe move north, get out of the big city. And so, I think I’d be fine, but it was rather annoying having everyone walk into the store and say, “You should play for the Lakers.”

* Is anyone else hearing “bow chicka wow wow” in their head? Just me? Fine, as you were.

It kind of seems like basketball was your destiny.
I always thought there was something else out there. I didn’t know what it was. And it wasn’t until all this, coach came along, that I said, “Well, maybe,” you know, “Maybe I’ll think about this one more time.”

And I got out there and gave it a chance, and then I decided, “All right, I’ll play this through. I’ll do the four years of college and just see where it goes.” And there were a lot of times I didn’t think it was going anywhere.

But yeah, it turned out well in the end, and thank goodness for Frank Layden, who came down and watched me play in southern California at summer league, and said, “You know what? We’ll give you a shot.”

How did you learn to be a defense and rebound guy when everybody probably wanted to throw you the ball in the low post?
Well, you have to remember what the, you know, the Jazz was like when I first showed up, with Adrian Dantley, who was scoring 35 points a game and was really the main cog of the offense. Then the Mailman [Karl Malone] came in, and so, you do what you’re good at.

I mean, you, everyone can’t score 20 points a night on, you know, in the, on the team. It’s, you got, there’s a give and take. And so, if you got the choice between giving me the ball or Karl Malone, I’m giving it to Karl Malone.

So, and [back then] we had the illegal defense rule, things like that, where the focus then was pull the center on offense away from the basket to pull his man up above, you know, the defensive player up above the free throw line to give Adrian Dantley or Karl Malone more opportunity to get down there. Well, didn’t leave a lot of scoring opportunities in the meantime.

And Frank Layden will still tell you, he laments about that once in awhile, he’s like, “Yeah, we should’ve gotten him more involved in the offense.” But, you know, I knew what my job was. I did it well…My biggest thrill in basketball was really blocking a shot, collecting the rebound, and throwing it up to Rickey Green or John Stockton and watching ’em sail down the floor. I mean, my, I loved outlet passing and all that part of the game.

And then I really didn’t care if I scored or not, and, because I knew we, you know, we were covered in that area, and hey, if I got a, you know, got a hook shot in here or there, an offensive rebound, great. But I knew what, you know, where my bread was buttered, and that was, you know, Wilt Chamberlain taught me too in summer league, was park my rear end under the basket and stop players from getting there.

So you got tutelage from Wilt Chamberlain?
I did, yeah, and I use that in my presentation a lot, about focusing on the one thing you do well. You know, know your job. And, yeah, he grabbed me one day at the men’s gym at UCLA and said, “Dude, why are you running up and down the court all over the place?”

[He was] like, “C’mere.” You know, put me right in front of the basket, and said, “Stay here. This is your job. Your job is to stop players from getting there. You know, collect the rebound, throw it up to the guard, let them go down the other end and score,* and then kinda cruise up to halfcourt and see what’s going on.” And he redefined the center position for me, of what was important.

And it was like a light bulb went on, and I went, okay, I understand now how I can compete and succeed out here, rather than just being another guy running around trying to do everything. And so I just focused on that one thing, and that became the core, the center of what I did.

And then it fit well with the Jazz, because when it came with the Jazz, to the Jazz, Frank Layden was changing everything from that run and gun-style offense to one that ran on opportunity and used defense–everything was predicated on defense.

And we overplayed, we rotated, you kn–we took chances defensively with Rickey, and with Darrell Griffith and guys like that, to create opportunities for ourselves, and it became a style of basketball that has stayed with the Jazz for years and years and years, of that, you know, “Let’s play good defense first, and then run when we can.” And that worked well for me, because I got to be the center of that, at the defensive side to help make that happen. (KFAN)

* UDQM.

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