This week, in Dallas, former MVP and 10-time NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki waits to discover who his opponent will be in the 2011 Western Conference Finals. And in Puerto Rico, the player he was traded for on draft night — Robert “Tractor” Traylor — was found dead in his Puerto Rico apartment today, the victim of an apparent heart attack. He was 34 years old.
The usual clichés were true when it came to Traylor — an outsized player with an outsized personality to match, one with a heart as big as his baseball-mitt hands. A 300-pounder with a soft touch, the 6-8 Traylor left Michigan as a lottery pick, winding up on the Milwaukee Bucks in the aforementioned trade for Nowitzki. He spent two seasons there before bouncing to the Cavaliers, the Hornets, and back to the Cavaliers over the course of seven NBA seasons.
Traylor struggled with his weight and well-documented off-the-court issues, but was always a welcoming presence in the locker room to both teammates and media alike. I spoke to him on several occasions – once in New Orleans for a SLAM feature on Baron Davis, and again in his last Cleveland stint for a story on LeBron James – and he was friendly and insightful each time, delivering tales in his distinctive baritone, often punctuated with a laugh.
His NBA career ended early, and he never did come close to achieving what his potential and No. 6 draft pick status indicated. He was never an All-Star, rarely a starter. Instead he found himself in Puerto Rico, playing for a club named Vaqueros Bayamon, where he was surprisingly named Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. But he should have had a long life ahead of him still, more time to appreciate what he did accomplish. R.I.P. Robert Traylor. You are missed.