Ex-NBA, Michigan player Robert Traylor dies at 34

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) - Robert Traylor, the former NBA and University of Michigan big man nicknamed “Tractor” because of his hulking frame, has died. He was 34.

Described as a “gentle giant” with a generous smile, Traylor played seven years in the NBA. He is perhaps most remembered, however, for his career at Michigan, where he was a standout for three seasons but became embroiled in a major scandal involving a booster.

Police in San Juan said Traylor was found dead Wednesday on the bedroom floor of his oceanfront apartment. Police and Traylor’s team, the Bayamon Cowboys, said he had been missing for a few days and apparently died from a heart attack.

“He was a leader of the team,” said Jose Carlos Perez, the Cowboys’ manager. “He was very, very friendly. He got along very well with everyone. The fans loved him, idolized him.”

Perez told The Associated Press that Traylor had been talking by phone to his wife in Chicago when the connection was suddenly cut off. She called team officials Wednesday and they checked on him, Perez said.

The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Traylor was injured and had not been playing, the team said.

Traylor was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the sixth pick in 1998, but they traded his rights to Milwaukee in a major deal that sent Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas. Traylor played for the Bucks in the first two seasons of an NBA career that included stops in Cleveland, Charlotte and New Orleans.

“The entire Milwaukee Bucks organization is saddened by the news of Robert Traylor’s death,” the Bucks said in a statement. “Robert was a fierce competitor on the court who helped the Bucks reach the playoffs in each of his two seasons in Milwaukee.

“Off the court he was a gentle giant, displaying his smile and care, especially toward young people through his involvement in school visits and his work with the Special Olympics clinic.”

Traylor got his “Tractor” nickname in high school, then went to Michigan shortly after the departures of Fab Five stars Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose. Part of another highly touted recruiting class that arrived in 1995, Traylor played three seasons with the Wolverines.

Dugan Fife, who played with Traylor for a season at Michigan, described him as soft-spoken and selfless.

“He loved putting on that Michigan jersey,” Fife said. “I was disappointed I only got to play one year with him because of the kind of guy he was. … Never complained about playing time, never complained about getting the ball.”

Of course, what everyone remembers about Traylor was his size _ including his unusually large hands and feet.

“I remember shaking his hand for the first time,” Fife said. “I could put my foot, with a shoe on, inside his shoes.”

Traylor was the most valuable player of the NIT in 1997 and averaged 16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds the following season, when Michigan won the inaugural Big Ten tournament.

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