by Alan Paul / @AlPaul

Wow. Tractor Traylor dead at 34.

This is just very very sad. Tractor was starring for U-M when I lived in Ann Arbor in 96-98 and began writing for SLAM. I saw him play a lot and did a piece in the mag — one of the first things I wrote for this fine publication. He made tremendous strides during his career there, and started passing out of the box his final year; he had sort of been a black hole before then.

When he lost a bunch of weight prior to the Draft, I took him seriously and, combined with the improvement I had seen, thought he was going to thrive in the NBA, despite the fact that he was simultaneously too small (6-8) and too big (300 pounds or so) at once. I remember laughing at the Mavs when they traded his draft rights for some German teen I had never heard of. Oops.

Tractor’s legacy at Michigan is cloudy. He was part of a team that let everyone down in a million ways, and he was one of four players, along with Louis Bullock., Chris Webber and Maurice Taylor who seem to have taken money fro Ed Martin. I saw all of them, including Martin, at St. Cecilia’s in Detroit when I spent time there writing a story for SLAM — one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, by the way. Let’s get that up here!

Aside from the money, the team was a really a letdown on the court. They never achieved what seemed possible and we’ll never know why.

But Tractor was a garrulous, friendly guy and a cool presence — and what a perfect nickname, in this era of severely diminished ones. During the weeks before the ‘98 Draft, he was working out for teams and my wife Becky and I were in the old Detroit airport flying back to New York. At the last minute, they announced a flight cancellation and a gate change for us and we knew that it was a blood-in-the-water first come, first serve situation. So I took off running.

I turned the corner into the right corridor at full sprint, Becky was trailing me, pushing our infant son Jacob in a stroller. I was flying, bags flapping behind me, when I almost ran smack into Tractor. He had lost a ton of weight but was still massive, like a brick wall. I stopped; said, Hi; reintroduced myself; shook hands; and said, I gotta go.

He laughed. As I ran away, I looked over my shoulder and said, “Tractor, you look great! Keep working hard.”

And he smiled this huge smile and said, “Thanks, man. I will.”

Soon after, I was at Toys R Us and saw a Tractor bobblehead, which I bought and placed on Jacob’s dresser, next to a little Josh Gibson figurine. Both are still there 13 years later.

RIP Tractor. Gone far too soon.