Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 at 4:55 pm  |  16 responses

RIP Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor

A personal remembrance.

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.

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  • jufu

    really sad. great player, great person.

  • http://Www.slamonline.com Alan Paul

    Yes. Thoughts and prayers with his family.

  • http://slamonline.com Susan Price

    Great memory, Alan.


    I think a lot of people scoffed @ that trade as well, me included. I really thought that his career n the L was gonna take off. But i enjoyed seeing him play since his days @ Michigan. R.I.P Tractor

  • http://kb24.com DreXnaW21

    R.I.P. Robert Traylor
    Thanks for sharing Alan

  • ogog

    thats sad.RIP

  • Matt

    Nice way to remember him Alan. Appreciate the story, well said.

  • Dre Baller

    great story
    i was a big fan when he entered the NBA and hoped he had more success

  • http://www.yamahyouth.com Germs

    Great story Alan. Loved the part of the black hole in the paint. Sad to see someone this youg pass away. RIP.

  • hoodsnake

    RIP Tractor. Thanx Alan loved the piece.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Alan Paul

    Thanks everyone. Glad to have a place to share the story with people who care about such things. Definitely feeling melancholy. Keep Robert Jr. in your hearts and minds.

  • Mike Rodriguez

    the same Alan Paul that wrote (writes) so many good articles for SLAM also plays the Blues? That’s brilliant.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Great piece….so sad.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    @Mike Rodriguez: Alan is the ultimate renaissance man. @Alan: appreciate you doing this.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Great piece, Alan. And what a great picture. That must be one of the best basketball photographs I have ever seen. RIP Robert Traylor.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Alan Paul

    Thanks everyone. @Mike, just saw your post. Yep, I am bluesman at heart. You can check out some of my tunes, videos, etc. at http://www.alanpaul.net. Thanks.