Former U-M star Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor dies at 34

Detroit News
News - Local Detroit

Detroit News logo
Detroit News logo

Rod Beard, Eric Lacy and Tom Markowski, Detroit News staff writers

Former Michigan star basketball player and Detroit native Robert "Tractor" Traylor was found dead in his apartment in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, on Wednesday.

According to his professional team, Vaqueros de Bayamon, Traylor suffered a massive heart attack. He was 34.

Traylor was a high school All-American at Detroit Murray-Wright before going on to play U-M from 1995-98. After his college career, in the 1998 NBA draft, he was selected by the Dallas Mavericks and traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to Dirk Nowitzki.

After leaving U-M, Traylor was at the center of the Ed Martin scandal that rocked the University of Michigan and led to severe NCAA sanctions and vacated wins during his college career.

Traylor played seven seasons in the NBA, including two stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, with whom he played his final season in 2005. He averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds over his career.

News of Traylor's death shocked Steve Fishman, Traylor's lawyer, when contacted by The Detroit News.

"He was a gentle giant," Fishman said. "And he would do anything to help younger players. If you knew his background and the challenges he faced, you couldn't help but be impressed with what he accomplished."

Willie Mitchell and Traylor were teammates at Michigan for one season (1994-95), but their relation ship went further back.

Mitchell played at Detroit Pershing, was Mr. Basketball in '94, and played Traylor's team, Murray-Wright, in the Class A state final that season. Murray-Wright won its only state title that season, defeating Pershing, the two-time defending champion, 86-64. Traylor was a junior that year, and Mr. Basketball his senior year.

"I've known Robert since he was 14," Mitchell said. "He was a freak of nature. He was a bundle of joy to be around. Anytime he stepped into a room, he filled it with laughter. I just heard of his death. I knew he was playing in the Puerto Rican League and he was playing well. I hadn't talked to him in six months or so."

Photo caption: Robert Traylor played for Cleveland, Charlotte, New Orleans and back to Cleveland as a free agent for the 2004-05 season, when his option was dropped. (AP)