Note

Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the Beyond Speaking podcast. And this week we decided to re-air the interview with Mark Eaton who tragically passed away while riding his bike recently. And Mark was one of those guys who was just, he was, he was a really great guy on and off stage. And I keep hearing all these stories about times where he took somebody aside and helped them out, or was quietly mentoring superstars, but never told anyone about it. And just with us, he was just such a great high-character guy to work with. You never had to worry about him being a primadonna. He was always kind to everyone, whether they were the CEO or the person who's brand-new at a company. And with us, he was just always a first-class high-quality guy. Extremely nice, funny, hardworking, smart, just all those different things. So we just wanted to share his most recent podcast with us just to be able to encourage people one more time.

Beyond Speaking is hosted by Brian Lord and produced by Eric Woodie

Introduction:

Everybody came into the shop and said, you should be a basketball player, right? But there was something that he said to me that was intriguing, which was, I will show you how to play basketball as a big guy. Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers.

Brian Lord:

I'm Brian Lord and on the show today, we have a seven-foot-four NBA all-star and author Mark Eaton, as he shares his unlikely story of getting to the NBA, the advice he was given by Wilt Chamberlain and the four commitments of a winning team.

Brian Lord:

Now, you would think that someone who is seven feet, four inches tall, somebody who has to duck to get through a regular-sized doorway would have an easy path to the NBA, but that's not the case. There are so many other things that go into being, not just an NBA player, but a successful one and all-star defensive player of the year then that, and, and the grit and the other things that Mark shows and just having this crazy weird route that he took to the NBA and also throughout he's taken afterwards. So I asked Mark, how did your journey to the NBA begin?

Mark Eaton:

Well, it's kind of an interesting story, Brian, because I didn't take the traditional route. Even though I was tall growing up in Southern California and I played on the basketball team, I really didn't play. I mean, I sat on the end of the bench. I wasn't very good. When I left high school, I was probably six foot 11 and not very coordinated and high school coaches just don't typically know what to do with a big guy. I didn't have a good experience. They didn't know what to do with me. And ultimately at the end of high school, I thought, "Well, that's it for athletics." I I'd done some other things. And I played a few other sports here or there, but it really wasn't very good at any of them. And so I thought, well, it's time to go get job or do something else. I really wasn't that interested in going to college at that point in time. And so I grew up my father was a Marine diesel mechanic, and I grew up working on boats in Southern California in the Harbor. And a buddy of mine was going to the trade school in Arizona to learned how to be an auto mechanic. And he called me up and said, "Hey, you want to go with me?" And I said, "Okay." So I went over there for a year, learned how to be an auto mechanic, came back to Southern California actually got fired from my first job at a Cadillac dealership and wound up with those tire and auto center and Bueno Park, California worked there about a year and a half doing tires, brakes, front end alignments, tune-ups all kinds of things like that. And one day a gentleman came around the corner and saw me standing out there at this busy intersection, talking to a customer and said, "Wow, who's this big, tall guy in the shop and why isn't he playing basketball?" Well, it turned out he was an assistant coach at the local junior college, Cypress College. And he'd worked with a couple of other big guys. So over a period of about two months, he kind of kept harassing me and coming back and again and again, which really kind of ticked me off because everybody came in the shop and said, "You should be a basketball player." Right. And that used to bother me because like, I don't run around telling everybody else, like, "You should be a golfer. You should be this. You should be that." But, but there was something that he said to me that was intriguing, which was, "I will show you how to play basketball as a big guy." And I had never been exposed to anything like that or heard anything like that. I said, "Well, what do you mean? Like, is it that different than, you know another kind of player?" And he said yes. And so he convinced me to, to give it a try just for 30-minutes, one day we went out, we went over to the blacktop at Cypress College and he started showing me some very simple moves that I could do without a lot of dribbling that a big guy could execute. That caused me to say, "Hmm, maybe I could consider this again at age 21." And he also committed to me that he said, "Look, if you want to work out, I'll be here every morning. And every evening for you, it before and after work to show you how this goes, and then you can make a decision after a little while, if you want to maybe consider coming back to junior college." So that commitment that he made to me at that point in time was, was just as important as the fact that he could teach me something I didn't know. So that's kinda how it started.

Brian Lord:

So from that you get there, where, how does the junior college experience, and then working up to UCLA?

Mark Eaton:

Well, so so the junior college experience the first year, I, I kind of hedged my debt. I kept my job as a mechanic in the mornings and I went to night school and I went to practice in the afternoon and things went pretty well there. I started turning myself into more of an athlete. Coach Tom showed me some things I could continue to do to improve. Our team did it very well. And the next year I decided, all right, I should probably get a little more serious about this, cause this is going pretty well. So I quit my job as a mechanic and I got a job selling cars. Dotson's.

Brian Lord:

Nice. That's, that's the perfect car for you.

Mark Eaton:

And that's the perfect car for me. Yes, at seven foot four, yes. Driving around a B2-10 Honeybee. And so the next year one even better. And then all these colleges were recruiting me from around the country and I opted to go to UCLA because they were a big name in college basketball. They were there in Los Angeles. I'd grown up watching Bill Walton and everybody in Coach Wooden's teams. So I enrolled there and Larry Brown was the coach and that didn't turn out to be such a great decision because I ended up sitting on the bench again at UCLA and it was very frustrating. and I can remember calling my junior college coach Tom, and saying, "You know, why aren't I playing? What, what's going, what's wrong here. I made the wrong decision." And he was like, "Dude, it's not the team. It's not the coach. It's you, you need to get better." And so he said, if you're not going to make the, you know, playing the games, you're gonna have to make the practices, your games, be the first guy there in the last to leave. And if you do that I promise you you'll have an opportunity to try out at it for an NBA team. Well, I, I kept working even though it was very frustrating on a daily basis, not getting any playing time. And then something interesting happened during the summer between my junior and senior year, one afternoon in the gym at UCLA, or they would have these great pickup games or practice games every afternoon. I mean like Magic Johnson was there and all these great Lakers players and they're very high-skilled, you know, pick up games and to say the least in any way I'm playing in the game one day, and I'm trying to catch this a little quick guard on there on the other team named Rocket Rod Foster. And of course he's getting to the basket. I'm like not even near half-court. And so I'm, I'm really frustrated because I'm feeling like I'm working hard, but I'm not really getting anywhere. And so I'm on the sideline and I'm just kind of feeling sorry for myself. And all of a sudden this big old hand grabs me on the shoulder and I turned around it was Wilt Chamberlain. And, and he looks at me and first of all, he says, "Look, you know, young fellow, you're never going to catch that guy." And I said, "Well, thank you. Well, I already figured that out on my own." But he said, "It's not your job." He said, "Come with me." And he took me out on the basketball court and he kind of put me right in front of the basket. And he said, "You see this basket?" He said, "Your job is to stop players from getting there. Your job is to make them miss their shot and then collect the rebound and throw it up to the guard and let them go down the other end and score it. And your job is to kind of cruise up to half court and see what's going on." And I'm like, "I like this part." Um, he said, "I've been watching you play. And I see the skill you have at defense." He said, "This is really what you need to concentrate on." And so that was a life-altering moment for me because I understood what I needed to do out on the basketball court and how I could be successful by focusing on this one thing. So in my presentation, I call that Knowing Your Job, like, what's the one thing you're excellent at and stop trying to run around and do everything. And instead, focus on the one thing you can be great at and that was a, that was a real turning point for me. And even though he didn't play much the following year at UCLA, I kept that in the back of my mind. And then at the end of my UCLA career my junior college coach and I, we literally got out the NBA statistics and started asking people if they would let me try out. I mean, it was like cold calling NBA teams asking for a tryout because I didn't think anybody was going to draft me. Nobody really knew about me. This was before the internet. There wasn't a lot, unless you're in somebody who's scouting report that they mailed to you, nobody had heard about you. And so the Utah Jazz at that time were one of the worst teams in the NBA. Last in about every category. And so we called them on the phone and the coach and general manager Frank Layden actually answered the phone back then because the front office was about six people back then in the early eighties. And he said, "Mark Eaton? You know, I don't think I've ever heard of him, but send me some video." So he claimed later we got all, he got was 20 minutes of me taking off my warmups from UCLA. But he came out and watched me play in a summer league in Southern California. And he pulled me aside. He said, "You know, I can tell you've been working. He says, you're a little rough, but he said, if you'd be willing to come to our training camp a month early before anybody else gets there and do some extra work with our coaches," he said, "I'd be willing to give you an, a contract for one year." And I think that year, the salary was 45,000. And so I, I said, "Coach, that's all I'm looking for is a chance." And so I showed up in salt Lake city in September of 1982, and I did what coach Frank asked me to do. And by February 1st I ended up being the starting center. So that's how I got to the, to the NBA.

Brian Lord:

And of course you, you had some amazing teammates as well, you know, with Karl Malone and John Stockton and all of them.

Mark Eaton:

Yeah. I started out with some, some really good teammates, Adrian Dantley and Darrell Griffith, a guy named Ricky Green played Michigan. And, and then a year later we got Thoreau Bailey who played for NC State with Jimmy Valvano. And then the year after that, John Stockton shows up the year after that Karl Malone shows up and this team that was a cellar dweller by simply playing together, cooperating with each other a little bit trusting each other a little bit. And as I call it, making each other look good it became a tenant of who we were as a team. And our team went on to start winning playoff games and winning the division. And and individually guys started to shine as well. Because if the team wins, you know, you, you win. And which is one of the other things I talk about in my presentation. So we ended up having a long career there. And of course, even after I left, the team continued to go on. There were 20 consecutive playoff appearances that started with that core group of people. And, and that with, with coach Frank back in the early eighties and it was because we, we paid attention to each other and we were there for each other. And that's, that's one of them, the tenants I talked about making others look good.

Brian Lord:

What's it like playing with some of those guys? I know, I know. I always like to do speaking questions, but this one I'm such a basketball fan. I have to know. So who's, you know, your typical questions, you know, who is the hardest person to guard, what's the hit you ever took with somebody, what's the hardest hit you ever gave out?

Mark Eaton:

I think-

Brian Lord:

Because this was back when you actually hit people.

Mark Eaton:

Yeah, we did. We did hit people know with their rules back there, like no layups. Right? You can still hear it. You still hear Magic talking about that today. They have the same rule with the Lakers. You know, I think for me my, my favorite, the hardest guy for me to play against was Hakeem Olajuwon because he was a seven footer with a soccer background and his foot speed was so amazing, his quickness... In fact, I believe one year he led the NBA in both block shots and steals as a center, which was pretty remarkable. And then the, in terms of hardest hits, boy, I don't know, then there was some big guys back then, you know, like he had Bob Lind area at Maurice Lucas had some of these guys that were kind of... Kind of thugs. And but I learned pretty quickly that I wanted to be able to dish out more than I was receiving. And so I got back in the weight room and got a lot stronger so that I could hold my position underneath there and I could push guys around and my job was deliver more pain than I received.

Brian Lord:

The thing is... Is that hard for you? Because you seem like a nice guy. Did you have to train yourself to be more physical?

Mark Eaton:

Yeah. I did have to train myself and one thing from both Wilt Chamberlain and my coach, Tom. They said, "You know, the key, the painted area under the floor under the basket on the floor is really your house. Like you got to take care of your house." And I'm always the kind of guy that will be there for somebody else. Like you can, like, you can count on me in the, where they were like, I got your back kind of a thing. And so it was really just going a little deeper into that and, and doing some sports psychology with my own brain about like, this is my boundary right here. And if you can, I looked at myself as, as guarding the entire other team, not just one player. Like if you came in the key, that was my responsibility. That's how I looked at it. So it did require some training and some intensity there, but it was also just an outgrowth of who I already was as a person. So it ended up being the perfect job for me.

Brian Lord:

Now with your new book, you talk about the Four Commitments, kind of what... Give us the quick outline of that.

Mark Eaton:

The four commitments of a winning team is really teamwork from the inside out. It's how to get rid of internal competition in your organization. And I had the advantage of playing teams with the highest level where you had to figure it out today. Like you couldn't wait till the next corporate retreat or the next board meeting to have a discussion about teamwork. It's like you either closed the doors and kicked out the coaches and had a meeting and got to figure it out, or you lose three or four games in a row. You could be living in a new city next week. So I bring that perspective to the, to the book. And it's a combination of my story of this incredible story from going from a 21-year-old auto mechanic to an All-Star along with the people that I've met along the way and their business stories and then how they've applied teamwork in their own way. And at the same time, giving the reader an opportunity to question themselves, what kind of a teammate am I, and how can I improve as a, as a team member and how can I make other people look good? And how could I let people know I'm really there for them along with really focusing on the one thing that I'm great at that I need to spend more time with. So it just goes a little wider and deeper than I do in my keynote. And, um there are some good stories in there. You know, I mean, I've, I've interviewed some fun people like David Stern, who was the commissioner of the NBA for years and years and years. And and then Junior Bridgeman is another guy I interviewed who was a great player for the Milwaukee Bucks, who most people don't know is the second largest franchise holder in America and the other president of a credit union in Utah, that's now at $4 billion. It's just gone by leaps and bounds. And he's had to deal with explosive growth over the last few years. Insurance people, some things like that. And, and and then just some other insider NBA stories from my career. So it's a, it's kind of a blend of both of those to give people some that like sports, a little bit of that, and who are looking for some business principles that they can share with their team, some of that as well.

Brian Lord:

David Stern sounds like a he seems like a very strong-willed guy and you know, that kind of comes through. So I'm curious to know what, what story did you have from him that fits into the sort of the teamwork frame?

Mark Eaton:

Well, you, you know, David Stern came on board in the, in the mid-eighties when the team was, or excuse me, when the MBA league was at a bit of low, you know, it's kind of a low spot, not that popular. And he really is in my mind, one of the branding visionaries in America, because he had all these teams out there doing all their own stuff, and you have the San Antonio Spurs or the, you know, the Boston Celtics, all doing their own promo videos, this out of the other thing. And he brought all that in house. He said, no, we're going to be one brand. And he said, if we can create one brand, all of you, individual cities will be stronger over time. And he had some fights with people who were doing their own thing and so I, I think that to me was the most remarkable. And he really looked at it as his family. He was very protective of his family, you know, even to a litigious standpoint he was going to defend them. He was going to defend the brand, but wow, look at what he created. I mean, over a period of 25, 30 years under his tenure, I mean, these franchises that when I was playing, what was $10 million are now worth, you know, two, $3 billion. And so the, and the brand has gone worldwide basketballs in 220 countries around the world and right behind it is a product and, and to digital downloads and everything else that goes along with it, they built an amazing machine. And that's all because of the vision of David Stern.

Brian Lord:

I'm curious to know if you were still playing today, the NBA has changed so much. Would you be outside shooting threes?

Mark Eaton:

No, probably not. I probably would. I would probably not have a job. But I was talking to my other coach, Jerry Sloan about this the other day, we went to a University of Utah game and watching these guys shoot from three-pointers that are seven feet tall. And he said, "You know, the problem is, is that you could start doing that," but he said, "you've got your, your two guards and the other people on the floor who all grew up being the three-point shooter. And now you protect some other guys supposed to be a center and put him out there." He says, "the potential is you're gonna cause some, you know, some strife among your teammates by doing that." And so as cool as it is to have guys shooting three-pointers, I think he was still both old, you know, old school mindset like I am that no, big guys need to be under the basket and, you know, God bless Dirk Nowitzki and guys like that can shoot out there. But in the big scheme of things I never would have been a three-point shooter in, in my position. And I played in the right era because it was all about the, the low posts now, close down next to the basket,

Brian Lord:

Releasing this interview right around the time of the NBA playoffs. Who do you think is going to take it home this year?

Mark Eaton:

Ooh, that's a good question. Well, there's some, up-and-comers you look at what Houston is doing right now. They're on a tear. You know, I was talking to some guys last night about the Raptors and Toronto and they, you know, they've got some, they, they kind of got real close and I think they'd like to get back there. So, you know, I don't think you can just write the Warriors into the finals. I think there's going to be some competition this year and in the East, I think, you know, people think all the Cavs are going to get back there, but they've had their ups and downs and struggles this year. And so when I think of there might be some new faces come you know, Western Eastern conference finals time.

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