One of the most intimidating men to ever play in the NBA, former Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton stands at an impressive 7’ 4”. Nearly two decades after his 11-year-long career with the team, he still leads the league in blocks for a single season, he was in the 1989 NBA All-Star Game, and he helped the Jazz win their division for the first time in team history. Today, as co-owner of local restaurants Tuscany and Franck’s, Eaton is more likely to brag about Chef Franck Peissel’s towering carrot cake than blocking Larry Bird’s shots. And even though his basketball days are behind him, the big man is still an inspiration—in more ways than one.
Before entering the NBA or food industry, Eaton was a car mechanic who was self-conscience about his height. When he played basketball in high school in Southern California, even though everyone told him he’d be good because of his reach, he was usually benched. Eaton eventually decided basketball wasn’t for him, until the day coach Tom Lubin from Cypress Junior College in Cyprus, Calif. walked into his auto shop, convinced he could show Eaton how to capitalize on his size.
Now Eaton shares his story of going from turning wrenches to shooting hoops as a motivational speaker.
“I considered my height a liability, and then this coach convinced me, over time, to give it another try,” he says. “Tom showed me another aspect to the game—a new horizon opened up for me.” Eaton owns his height by running his website 7ft4.com, serving the 7’ 4” Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake at Tuscany, and previously running a basketball program for at-risk kids called Standing Tall for Youth.
He says he took what made him uncomfortable and made it his greatest asset, and he mentions it in his motivational speech. “It’s about accepting and owning who you are as a human being—all the pluses and minuses,” he says. “It’s saying, ‘These are the tools I have to work with. What else can I do with them?’”
Eaton usually delivers his speech, The Four Commitments of a Winning Team, to private businesses and at business conventions. “That’s probably 80 percent of what I do now,” he says. The four key elements are knowing the job, following directions, making co-workers look good and making sure co-workers look out for one another. Park City screenwriter Stacy Dymalski helped Eaton draft his speech, and now he gets coaching from speech coach Lisa Yakobi. “I speak about 70 to 80 times per year,” he says. “It’s authentic, and it’s my message.”
Within the next year or two, Eaton plans to use his speech to help him write a book, while Dymalski used the same inspiration to write a screenplay about Eaton’s life she hopes will one day be filmed.