Gordon Monson: Mark Eaton, the world’s tallest good Samaritan, is gone. Hopefully his outlook on life is not.

The former Utah Jazz center, who died Friday, will be remembered for his work with kids and retired NBA players. ‘I’m just returning back to others what’s been given to me,’ he said.

(Tribune file photo) Larry Miller and mark Eaton.

Between bites of calamari and properly-spiced roast chicken, Mark Eaton winced a little from a bolt of pain that fired through his back as he leaned forward from his chair and over a table to talk about what he wanted out of life, what he felt compelled to give and what he aimed to get.

As his intercontinental arms pushed yet another delectable dish at his restaurant in my direction — “Taste this,” he said, “you’ll love it” — he emphasized not the tall heights and far reaches of an enormously successful basketball career, rather a more important perspective he had discovered, with which he had been blessed.

“I know I’m fortunate,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted. I’m real happy now.”

The only thing, indeed, during that three-hour meal/conversation bigger than the man himself, what with his 7-foot-4 frame dwarfing nearly everything around him, was his sincerity about the difference he intended to make for the benefit of others.

The wincing came from a leftover basketball injury, a herniated disk that had ended his long playing career with the Jazz, added as it was to other back ailments and a sore hip, all of which made it a chore on some days to get out of bed in the morning. He recalled a bad day at his home near Park City when his back locked up, causing him to fall to the ground and stay there, eventually getting help for a trip to a hospital.

And, yet, here he was, subtly talking about how he could help make the world a better place, putting special attention on children, having established youth programs through his foundation for hundreds of kids to learn, to have a better chance at productive lives.

He taught them basketball skills, to go to their left on the court, but also to go right in their lives.

“I’m just returning back to others what’s been given to me,” he said. “It’s a real joy. It makes your heart jump to see the kids make progress. To see them working hard in school, doing well and being happy. It’s real cool.”

The words he spoke that day were the first thoughts that came to mind when horrible news arrived early Saturday that Big Mark had died, he’d left from his home on a bike ride Friday evening and never returned.

What sorrow.

What a loss.

He was 64, far too young for such a generous soul to depart.

Not that Larry Bird or Magic Johnson or other players of his day would have seen him in that light, no, not generous, at least not on the court, where he earned a pair of Defensive Player of the Year awards, blocking shots and what seemed to be open driving avenues to the basket, suddenly blockaded by the largest frame in the game.

Eaton had major effects on outcomes of those games, not dissimilar to a current Jazz big man, name of Rudy Gobert. A handful of Lakers once told me that they worried more about playing the Jazz than any other team, and the reason for that had much to do with … well, You Know Who.

But as intimidating as Eaton could be on the floor, he was something else off it.

He was an NBA star, but he had the humility of a man who used to work as an auto mechanic, sliding under cars for greasy repairs, getting a working man’s duties done. Those tales have all been told.

How for Mark Eaton there was no place to hide, standing out and up as he did, walking through airports, malls, on city streets as stares splashed on and all around him from people who were amazed by his size.

If he was going to stand out, said Eaton with a shrug, taking another bite from a freshly arrived cheese plate, he might as well be a cause for good.

“Our whole thing is, when kids leave our programs, we want them to know what it’s like to set a goal, to have a dream, to know what relationships are all about,” he said. “Hopefully, to move ahead …”

He paused to consider the size of the task at hand.

" … We’re losing our kids on a daily basis. … We should do whatever we can to help where we can.”

Eaton engaged in other causes, too. A lot of them.

He was once part of an organization for retired NBA players, especially those who played prior to 1964.

“These are guys who gave their heart and soul to basketball,” he said. “They didn’t make a lot of money. Many of them are much less fortunate, guys who find themselves in poor circumstances. It’s like a special fraternity. It’s fun and fulfilling to be a part of helping out a brother.”

Eaton went on to become an author and a kind of motivational speaker, one who spoke to companies and groups who were interested in his vision for teamwork and his brand of leadership.

Unlike a lot of former Jazz players, he remained in Utah to live, and live he did. Despite the frustrations of dealing with pain, he skied, he snowmobiled, he fished, he walked, and he biked. He spent time and created memories with family members and friends.

He knew, as Paul Simon once sang it, to “preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” And he anticipated the creation of many more memories.

“I look forward to snowstorms in the winter when I can just sit in front of the fireplace,” he said. “And going to the ocean with the family to just rejuvenate.”

So, he did.

And now, the world’s tallest good Samaritan is gone. With any luck, his outlook on life, his perspective, is not.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.