After Bonding Over Basketball and Biking, a Big Loss


Mark Eaton didn’t join with Rudy Gobert as a result of they have been each huge males from a small-market franchise identified for his or her immense shot-blocking presence. Not solely, anyway.

Eaton and Gobert, paint protectors previous and current for the Utah Jazz, bonded over a love of bike-riding, too.

In August 2016 in Las Vegas, at an National Basketball Retired Players Association perform, Eaton was launched to a Frenchman named David Folch who specialised in making customized bicycles for tall riders and had already secured the Hall of Famer Bill Walton as a shopper. Eaton was so excited that he hopped proper onto Folch’s pattern bike and started pedaling by the corridors of the resort.

“He had a big smile on his face as he’s coming back and, with that deep voice, he’s telling me, ‘I feel like a kid — I haven’t felt like this since I was 10,’ ” Folch mentioned in a phone interview.

Within a yr, Eaton had organized for Gobert to fulfill the 6-foot-6 Folch to get a DirtySixer bike of his personal, outfitted with 36-inch wheels for a body that, as Folch described it, comes with “everything oversized and everything proportionate” for N.B.A.-sized biking lovers. Gobert was shortly hooked and would quickly have his personal customized bike to hitch Eaton for infrequent rides. He later ordered 15 bikes from Folch as presents for his Jazz teammates.

I recently wrote about Gobert’s trying year within the highlight after he was the primary N.B.A. participant identified to check constructive for the coronavirus. The piece included a passage about how Eaton had grow to be a mentor to Gobert. Eaton shared the story of their first 7-footers-only bike journey and a subsequent tour of Eaton’s Park City, Utah, house, the place Gobert noticed Eaton’s Defensive Player of the Year Award trophies from 1984-85 and 1988-89. Gobert vowed that day to win one, too.

“Now he has two of his own,” Eaton mentioned in our March dialog.

Gobert is broadly anticipated to quickly be named the winner of the award for the third time, however Eaton sadly gained’t be right here to see it. Last Friday, on his second bike journey of the day, Eaton was discovered mendacity unconscious on a roadway after a suspected crash close to his house in Summit County, Utah. Eaton was taken to a hospital, the place he died that evening. The state’s medical expert’s workplace has but to announce an official explanation for demise.

Sorrow unfold shortly across the league on Saturday as a result of Eaton, simply 64, was a beloved determine in N.B.A. circles, as a lot for the way in which he campaigned for retired gamers as for his personal unlikely rise from the neighborhood school ranks to an 11-year profession with the Jazz that peaked with one All-Star choice (1988-89). It was additionally the newest in a string of devastating bike accidents involving N.B.A. figures, including to the anguish felt final October, when the longtime Houston Rockets scout BJ Johnson was killed on a journey in Houston. In March, Shawn Bradley, the 12-year veteran heart, announced through the Dallas Mavericks that he had been paralyzed in January after a automobile struck him throughout a journey in St. George, Utah.

Gobert devoted the Jazz’s Game Three victory in Memphis on Saturday evening to Eaton. The 7-foot-4 Eaton typically advised the story of his struggles at U.C.L.A., the place he barely performed in two seasons, till the enduring Wilt Chamberlain watched him in a few practices and advised him to deal with dominating across the rim as an alternative of making an attempt to match the mobility of sooner opponents. Eaton repeatedly handed the identical message on to the 7-foot-1 Gobert, who, like Eaton, was not an prompt power within the N.B.A., after Denver chosen him with the 27th general decide within the 2013 draft on Utah’s behalf.

“I feel his presence,” Gobert mentioned after the Game Three win, including that he may think about receiving his customary postgame textual content message from Eaton that learn, “Way to protect the paint, big guy.”

My private recollections of Eaton are equally fond. As a basketball-loving resident of Orange County, Calif., it was inconceivable for me to not be schooled on the Eaton fairy story — how he had been noticed by a coach from Cypress (Calif.) Community College whereas working as a mechanic and had been talked into becoming a member of the staff, at age 20, after he had given up the game. Eaton was incomes an annual wage of $20,000 at Mark C. Bloome Tires, however he confirmed sufficient promise at Cypress to be drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 107th general decide within the fifth spherical of the 1979 draft, earlier than deciding it could be wiser to switch to U.C.L.A. fairly than making an attempt to go on to the professionals.

The Jazz chosen Eaton within the fourth spherical of the 1982 draft at No. 72 general after his nearly nonexistent Bruins profession. In his third N.B.A. season, he blocked 5.6 pictures per recreation to set a single-season league document that also stands. His final season as an energetic participant with the Jazz (1992-93) narrowly preceded my first season as an N.B.A. beat author (1993-94), however Eaton additionally holds a distinction present in just one document e-book — mine. He was the primary N.B.A. participant I ever interviewed.

During the summer season of 1989, as a part-time correspondent for The Orange County Register whereas attending Cal State Fullerton, I used to be dispatched to cowl the N.B.A.’s annual summer season league at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I had spent months pestering an assigning editor, Robin Romano, who graciously put up with my badgering. Summer league in these days was nothing in any respect just like the monster enterprise we see now, with huge crowds in Las Vegas and cameras all over the place. Established N.B.A. writers hardly ever lined it — particularly these based mostly in Southern California accustomed to lengthy playoff runs reporting on the Showtime Lakers.

Romano fought for me to get the project, partly as a result of I had besieged her with reminders that, because of my abroad ties and full-fledged N.B.A. nerdity, I used to be already well-acquainted with the Lakers’ little-known first-round draft decide from Europe: Vlade Divac. Yet it was Eaton I encountered first within the L.M.U. hallway as I entered the health club, and I approached him, terrified, for an interview — and with none good questions and even a story angle.

Eaton had simply made his lone All-Star look 5 months earlier and, if I bear in mind proper, was not even enjoying that day as one of many veterans identified, in that anything-goes period, to drop in unannounced to get some run. As a 20-year-old neophyte, I simply figured I higher interview an N.B.A. All-Star as a result of I noticed one. To my aid, Eaton couldn’t have been nicer about my lack of preparation or know-how as I held my tape recorder as excessive as my meager, trembling wingspan may handle.

He bought me by it. I recounted the story for him greater than as soon as in recent times and, after we final spoke almost three months in the past for the Gobert piece, Eaton made positive to remind me: “I love your story about Loyola.”

Video of that interplay, had it existed, wouldn’t be almost as compelling because the footage of Eaton pedaling in the halls of a Vegas hotel, or the nice clip that has been circulating of Eaton smothering a drive to the basket by the previous N.B.A. participant Rex Chapman together with his proper palm with out leaping. Yet Eaton’s praise, coming from the mild large who had among the best again tales in N.B.A. historical past, is one I plan to hold onto.


You ask; I reply. Every week on this house, I’ll discipline three questions posed by way of e mail at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. (Please embrace your first and final title, in addition to town you’re writing in from, and ensure that “Corner Three” is within the topic line.)

Questions could also be condensed and frivolously edited for readability.

Q: The 1996-97 Charlotte Hornets had Glen Rice and Dell Curry on the roster. Their children, Glen Rice Jr., and Stephen and Seth Curry, all reached the N.B.A. so these Hornets had two dads of future N.B.A. gamers. Has an N.B.A. roster ever had greater than two? — Steven Friedlander (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Stein: A complete breakdown of N.B.A. rosters with probably the most N.B.A. dads was not available, however some session with the Elias Sports Bureau discovered a number of groups within the 1990s that had a minimum of three gamers whose sons made it to the N.B.A., too.

  • Golden State in 1991-92: Tim Hardaway (Tim Hardaway Jr.), Rod Higgins (Cory Higgins) and Jaren Jackson (Jaren Jackson Jr.)

  • Cleveland in 1993-94: Higgins, Larry Nance (Larry Nance Jr.) and Gerald Wilkins (Damien Wilkins)

  • Golden State in 1994-95: Manute Bol (Bol Bol), Hardaway and Higgins

  • Portland in 1995-96: Harvey Grant (Jerami and Jerian Grant), Arvydas Sabonis (Domantas Sabonis) and Gary Trent (Gary Trent Jr.)

  • Portland in 1997-98: Rick Brunson (Jalen Brunson), Sabonis and Trent.

Another memorable instance: As my pal Mike Lynch from Stathead famous, Henry Bibby (Mike Bibby), Joe Bryant (Kobe Bryant), Mike Dunleavy (Mike Dunleavy Jr.) and Harvey Catchings (whose daughter Tamika Catchings starred within the W.N.B.A. and was simply inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2020 class alongside Kobe Bryant) all performed for Philadelphia in 1976-77.

Q: Have my Hornets lastly turned a nook? Can LaMelo Ball’s thrilling type assist us appeal to free brokers? Will Michael Jordan be prepared to interrupt the financial institution once more on a confirmed participant after the signing of Gordon Hayward? — Glenn Gibson (Mount Holly, N.C.)

Stein: Ball’s presence may assist some, but it surely’s a stretch to explain Charlotte as any form of rising free-agent vacation spot or to recommend that the Hornets’ standing within the league has modified after one season that ended with a blowout defeat within the play-in event.

Mitch Kupchak, Charlotte’s president of basketball operations, mentioned in an interview with me final week — and when he did a season-ending information convention with native reporters — that the Hornets have been pleasantly stunned to win the Hayward sweepstakes in November. Kupchak was initially skeptical that Hayward would decline a participant possibility with Boston for the 2020-21 season value almost $35 million to return to small-market Charlotte.

Given that the Hornets dedicated to a four-year deal to Hayward value $120 million, this isn’t the time to query Jordan’s willingness to spend. That deal was broadly thought to be an overpayment given Hayward’s age (31) and harm historical past. Yet I maintain agency on what was lined in last week’s newsletter about Jordan’s restricted presence across the staff.

Understandable because it was for Jordan to be distant all through a season performed by the pandemic, I stay satisfied that he must be extra seen and concerned to spice up the Hornets, as a result of his star energy is such a distinction maker.

Q: Another collapse? From a franchise perspective, positive, however Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis weren’t even youngsters when the 2006 finals occurred, so I doubt they offer it a lot thought. — @BrettChisum from Twitter

Stein: Fair level. Tuesday’s piece wasn’t meant to recommend that Doncic and Porzingis have been weighed down of their first-round sequence in opposition to the Los Angeles Clippers by recollections of what occurred to the Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks within the 2006 N.B.A. finals in opposition to Miami.

But I nonetheless suppose “another” applies, as I utilized in a tweet to advertise the story, as a result of (as you additionally famous) that is a franchise — and a fan base — that may always remember what occurred in 2006. Dallas’s incapacity to win a single playoff sequence because the 2011 finals conquer Miami that avenged the 2006 loss elements into that.

Like it or not, if the Mavericks lose this sequence to the Clippers after taking a 2-Zero lead on the highway, it should dredge up discuss of the worst collapses in league and, sure, franchise historical past.


It’s laborious to consider now, given the depths of his struggles in opposition to the Hawks, however Julius Randle averaged 37.Three factors, 12.Three rebounds and 6.7 assists in three regular-season video games in opposition to Atlanta. Although Randle had his finest recreation of the sequence within the Knicks’ Game Four defeat (23 factors, 10 rebounds and 7 assists), his 7-for-19 capturing efficiency impressed derisive chants of “Play-off Randle” and “over-rated” from Atlanta’s followers. Randle, who final week gained the N.B.A.’s Most Improved Player Award, has missed 53 of 73 pictures from the sphere within the sequence. The Hawks had the league’s 18th-ranked defense in the course of the common season.

Milwaukee’s extra time victory in opposition to Miami in Game 1 of their first-round sequence didn’t precisely recommend that the Bucks have been poised to comb the Heat. The Bucks pulled out a victory within the sequence opener regardless of capturing a dreadful 5 for 31 on 3-pointers (16.1 %). The Heat shot 20 for 50 from lengthy vary within the 109-107 defeat and have been by no means once more shut within the sequence, absorbing three additional defeats by a median of 26.7 factors per recreation in a beautiful reversal from the groups’ second-round matchup in final season’s bubble playoffs at Walt Disney World.

Jayson Tatum’s 50 factors final Friday in Boston’s Game Three win over the Nets marked the fourth time in 49 days that Tatum had scored a minimum of 50 factors. He additionally scored 53 factors in an extra time victory in opposition to Minnesota on April 9; 60 factors in an extra time victory in opposition to San Antonio on April 30; and 50 factors on May 18 in a victory over Washington in an Eastern Conference play-in recreation. Only 5 different gamers in Celtics historical past have scored 50 factors or extra in a playoff recreation, and none of them have been named Larry Bird or Bill Russell, in response to Stathead: John Havlicek (54 in 1973), Isaiah Thomas (53 in 2017), Ray Allen (51 in 2009), Sam Jones (51 in 1967) and Bob Cousy (50 in 1953).

Portland’s Carmelo Anthony, who ranks 10th on the N.B.A.’s profession scoring record with 27,370 regular-season factors, turned 37 on Saturday. The solely participant older than Anthony to see recreation motion in these playoffs was Miami’s Andre Iguodala, in response to Stathead, who turned 37 in January.

Despite shedding Denver’s Jamal Murray and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to harm, Canada Basketball named 14 N.B.A. gamers to its 21-player roster for its Olympic qualifying bid. That means Canada Coach Nick Nurse, of the Toronto Raptors, has extra N.B.A. gamers than roster spots (12) at his disposal, which is a first for any nation other than the United States since professionals have been granted permission to take part in Olympic basketball in Barcelona in 1992. Canada should win a six-nation Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, British Columbia, from June 29 to July Four to hitch the United States within the 12-team males’s basketball Olympic discipline in Tokyo.


Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send another suggestions to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com.





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