Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 at 10:54 am  |  19 responses

A Giant Loss

Robert “Tractor” Traylor’s death last spring left a hole in the hearts of all who knew him.

Traylor became fiercely loyal to the coach whose faith had helped his self-confidence. A year after leaving New Orleans and taking over the Cavs, Silas brought Tractor along, and their bond deepened.

“I was having some issues with the players and he took it up for me,” Silas says of Traylor, who played in 438 NBA games and averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per outing. “I have not had many players ever do that, but I had gone to bat for him in Charlotte  and now he went to bat for me. It’s hard to say just how much I appreciated that.”

Fisher and Silas tell remarkably similar stories about their relationships with Traylor over the years. Unlike many former players, they say, he didn’t just call when he wanted a favor. He genuinely wanted to stay in touch. He asked about their families and they knew it was because he cared, not out of politeness or shallow manners. And they both say that he was not bitter about his fate. He didn’t curse the world for having ended up a global basketball nomad.

Traylor failed a physical after signing with the Nets in 2005 when doctors discovered an enlarged aortic valve. He had heart surgery in November, 2006, then sat out a year and half before restarting his career overseas, in Spain, Turkey, Italy and Mexico. He moved on to his final stop, Puerto Rico’s Bayamon Cowboys, before last season.

In Puerto Rico, he quickly became the Cowboys’ most popular player, to the surprise of absolutely no one who ever met him.

“He was a leader of the team,” manager Jose Carlos Perez told the Associated Press after Traylor’s death. “He was very, very friendly. He got along very well with everyone. The fans loved him, idolized him.”

“Look, anyone who plays in the NBA and then ends up elsewhere wants to get back,” says Silas. “But Robert was very satisfied in Puerto Rico, making some money for himself and his family playing the game that he loved. He admired what he was doing and he wasn’t bitter. He just missed his wife and kids.”

Perez told the AP that Traylor was speaking to his wife on the phone when the connection cut off. Concerned, she called the team, who checked on him and found him deceased. Back in Michigan, now trying to pick up the pieces, a quiet but eloquent Raye Traylor is happy to talk about the man with whom she shared her life for 12 years.

“It was very hard for Robert to be away from us for so long, but he loved Puerto Rico,” she says. “He had made good friends and made himself a part of the community there, like he did everywhere else he ever lived. The kids missed him tremendously, and when he was home, there was only one place that RJ wanted be—with his dad. They spent all day together every day.”

Anyone who has ever been a parent or a child—everyone, that is—can understand the Traylor family tragedy. Seven-year-old RJ is lucky to be the son of someone who was so well-loved and who had so much love to give, and, of course, terribly unlucky to lose him at such an early age.

My own son is almost 14 now, and the Tractor doll is still on his dresser. It used to be a sort of kitschy marker of his Ann Arbor roots, but now it’s something else: a reminder of the fragility of life, and a totem of someone I’m happy for my boy to have as an idol. And that’s the truth.

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  • http://www.optimabbc.be Max

    A true monster of a beast!

  • arthur

    Great write-up, as always from Alan Paul. Very moving. It’s a shame Traylor couldn’t keep his weight down, it sounds like he had a lot of the tools to succeed in the NBA.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Love when Alan writes for us. RIP, Tractor.

  • Luiyo

    I’m from Puerto Rico and Bayamon VAQUEROS (not Cowboys) fan. I can say that he was really loved by the fan base and everybody in the league. He was a little out of shape but he was a leader and a dominant player in the paint. He helped us win the championship and a 2nd place while he was with us, he easily was one of the best foreing players in the history of the franchise and one of the most loved.

  • rich

    ill never forget him all of my memories are of him doing something hillarious on the court. in 34 years he prolly lived as much as a someone who died at 60.

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

    Thanks guys. I actually got kind of choked up reading it right now.

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

    @Luiyo, I went withe the English translation, but you could make a good argument that Vaqueros is more appropriate. Anyhow, glad to hear that the good reports of Tractor in PR seem to be right on.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    Man, that was a good write up. Thanks Alan, RIP Tractor Traylor.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Nima Zarrabi

    Loved this. Excellent work, Alan.

  • Joe

    Photo #8 is just really really sad!

  • Ngoie Kafita

    RIP Tractor Traylor, guess The Lord needed a bruiser up there.

  • MikeC.

    I remember seeing Tractor playing for the Wolverines and he grabbed a board and his shorts fell down. He kept playing, holding his shorts up with one hand and ended up sprinting down the court and getting an easy layup, all one-handed.

  • Ryan

    Great piece of writing. Thank you for not glossing over the man’s faults and for not letting them obscure the story either.

  • L

    Amazing writing. Congrats, it was really moving.L

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

    Thanks everyone. I appreciate all the kind words. Got a nice message from Bruce Madej of U-M as well: “Very well done. Robert was indeed a great guy and you captured it.”

    Stories like this that you really get emotionally involved with are the hardest to write and the most satisfying when they work out… I am going to post a pic of the bobblehead doll on my Twitter as soon as I can this afternoon…@alpaul

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

    @MikeC – I remember that. Classic.

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  • Zoobrain

    Very well put Sir! I remember him as “Baby Shaq”! He was well known throughout the state of Michigan and is loved and admired as a pilar of the states basketball roots. His dominance hasn’t been matched since his Mr. Basketball year and probably won’t see it in a some more yrs to come. R. I. P. MICHIGAN’S OWN BABY SHAQ!!!

  • Luiyo