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Robert 'Tractor' Traylor, 34; played seven NBA seasons

By Danica Coto
Associated Press / May 13, 2011

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SAN JUAN — Robert Traylor, the former NBA and University of Michigan big man nicknamed Tractor because of his hulking frame, has died. He was 34.

Described as a gentle giant with a generous smile, Mr. Traylor played seven years in the NBA. He is perhaps best remembered, however, for his career at Michigan, where he was a standout for three seasons, but became embroiled in a major scandal involving a booster.

Police in San Juan said Mr. Traylor was found dead Wednesday on the bedroom floor of his oceanfront apartment. Police and Mr. Traylor’s team, the Bayamon Cowboys, said he had been missing for a few days and apparently died of a heart attack.

“He was a leader of the team,’’ said Jose Carlos Perez, the Cowboys manager. “He was very, very friendly. He got along very well with everyone. The fans loved him, idolized him.’’

Perez said Mr. Traylor had been talking by phone to his wife in Chicago when the connection was suddenly cut off. She called team officials yesterday, and they checked on him, Perez said.

The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Mr. Traylor was injured and had not been playing, the team said.

He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the sixth pick in 1998, but they traded his rights to Milwaukee in a major deal that sent Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas. Mr. Traylor played for the Bucks in the first two seasons of an NBA career that included stops in Cleveland, Charlotte, and New Orleans.

“The entire Milwaukee Bucks organization is saddened by the news of Robert Traylor’s death,’’ the Bucks said in a statement. “Robert was a fierce competitor on the court who helped the Bucks reach the playoffs in each of his two seasons in Milwaukee.

“Off the court, he was a gentle giant, displaying his smile and care, especially toward young people, through his involvement in school visits and his work with the Special Olympics clinic.’’

Mr. Traylor got his Tractor nickname in high school, then went to Michigan shortly after the departure of Fab Five stars Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose.

Part of another highly touted recruiting class that arrived in 1995, Mr. Traylor played three seasons with the Wolverines. He was the most valuable player of the NIT in 1997 and averaged 16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds the following season, when Michigan won the inaugural Big Ten tournament.

Although he was productive on the court, Mr. Traylor was one of the Michigan players whose ties to booster Ed Martin resulted in NCAA sanctions against the basketball program.

He turned pro after his junior year, averaging 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 438 NBA games.

Mr. Traylor had surgery on his aorta in 2005, the Bayamon Cowboys said. The team suspended its game Wednesday night because of his death.

Mr. Traylor had been playing with a team in Veracruz, Mexico, before he moved to Puerto Rico in mid-March, Perez said.

Indiana coach Tom Crean, a former assistant at Michigan State, echoed those sentiments in a post on Twitter.

“At Michigan State, we battled against him, and he might have been the most time-consuming and mind-challenging matchup we ever faced, and we as coaches weren’t even playing. He had great feet and hands and a very soft touch. . . . You really had to have a plan to stop him.’’

In 2009, Mr. Traylor was sentenced to jail after violating conditions of supervised release related to an income-tax case in which he acknowledged preparing a false tax return that hid assets of a convicted drug dealer.

Detroit attorney Steve Fishman, a friend of Mr. Traylor’s who also represented him during his legal troubles, said that Mr. Traylor’s aorta troubles were discovered during an NBA physical, causing teams to shy away.

Perez said Mr. Traylor leaves his wife and two sons.

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