Wed May 11 02:50pm EDT
Robert "Tractor" Traylor, the former Michigan star whose brief NBA career fizzled after seven unspectacular seasons, was found dead in his oceanfront apartment in Puerto Rico, his Puerto Rican professional team confirmed Wednesday.
The 34-year-old Traylor died of an apparent heart attack. He battled lingering weight problems throughout his NBA career and underwent surgery in fall 2005 to repair an enlarged aorta discovered when he failed an offseason physical with the New Jersey Nets.
While Traylor never averaged more than 5.7 points per game in the NBA and made just 73 starts in seven seasons in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Charlotte and New Orleans, it's his college career at Michigan that will be his legacy. The Detroit native averaged 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in three seasons with the Wolverines, but he was best known for his gregarious personality, massive girth and colorful nickname.
Traylor lived up to his "Tractor Traylor" moniker at Michigan, using his 300-pound frame to impose his will on defenders on the low block yet showing nimbleness and athleticism unexpected from a player of his size. His best season came as a junior when he was named MVP of the Big Ten's inaugural conference tournament in 1998, playing well enough to lead Michigan to the second round of the NCAA tournament and get taken sixth by Dallas in the NBA draft.
What tarnishes Traylor's legacy at Michigan is that every game he played has since been stricken from the record books.
The McDonald's All-American was one of the players involved in a highly publicized rollover car accident in 1996 during a recruiting visit by future Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves. That triggered a six-year NCAA investigation into the Michigan program that uncovered payments from booster Ed Martin to Traylor and other players and resulted in the program landing on probation.
That Traylor made it to Michigan at all was an achievement in itself considering the rough childhood he endured in Detroit's tough West side. Traylor lived with his grandmother during high school while his mother battled drug problems, and he often served as a father figure for his younger brother.
Traylor's generosity toward his family and childhood friends landed him in financial and legal trouble as Dan Wetzel describes in this 2007 column, but he overcame that to continue his basketball career overseas. Traylor played in Turkey, Italy and Puerto Rico, earning defensive player of the year in his Puerto Rican league last year.
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