Two days ago Rudy Gobert was texting with Mark Eaton.
Gobert had become accustomed to texting with the Utah Jazz legend, he’d been to Eaton’s house many times, had many conversations with Eaton about life and basketball. Gobert looked up to the Jazz’s first two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
“I know that if he was here I would have got a text after the game saying, ‘way to protect the paint big guy. I know he’s watching, and I know he’s going to be watching through the rest of the playoffs and everything else. I feel his presence.” — Rudy Gobert, on Mark Eaton
“I know that if he was here I would have got a text after the game saying, ‘Way to protect the paint big guy,’” Gobert said with a smile after the Jazz’s 121-111 Game 3 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. “I know he’s watching, and I know he’s going to be watching through the rest of the playoffs and everything else. I feel his presence.”
Eaton had become a mentor to Gobert over the last seven years. The 7-foot-4 Eaton and 7-2 Gobert obviously had a lot in common in what they did on the court but they shared more than just basketball commonalities. They shared a similar way of thinking, a care for impacting their community, a drive to inspire others and spread kindness.
“His relationship with Rudy, I think, is emblematic of who he was,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “His ability to listen and then to offer counsel and support was something that was really unique.”
That’s what keeps coming up when talking to people about Eaton. Over and over you’ll hear those that knew him say that he was a great listener, a superb friend, and unendingly kind to everyone he encountered.
“Obviously he had a great career, but as a human being as a person, he was someone that I related to a lot,” Gobert said. “I learned a lot just from being around him. He’s definitely going to be missed, and not just by me but in the community, with all the great things that he’s done and all the people he’s been inspiring his whole life.”
The news of Eaton’s death was shocking for everyone, and hit Gobert especially hard.
When Gobert took the court Saturday night in Memphis, he was thinking about Eaton, and the way that he would have wanted Gobert to play, the way he would have wanted Gobert to own his position and protect his teammates.
“I definitely know I had to come out tonight and make sure I was doing everything to help the team get a win,” Gobert said. “Just, to honor him.”
Snyder described Eaton as someone fueled by compassion, able to motivate others in both direct and subtle ways. Gobert will continue to be motivated by Eaton, through the memories and time that they shared, and while Eaton will be missed, he will not be forgotten.