Let me tell you a story that few know about and many others do not believe. I was the guy who gave Robert “Tractor” Traylor his nickname when he was a high school junior at Detroit Murray-Wright. He was one of my kids that I nurtured as a journalist. I covered him in high school, followed him throughout his basketball career at the University of Michigan and often rooted for him during his spotty NBA career.
Traylor was overweight even as a high school player and that baby fat might have led to his death. He was found dead in his apartment in Puerto Rico at the tender age of 34. He was playing basketball there, the game he loved and the game he never wanted to give up.
The last time I ran into him was at Nordstrom in Novi where he was shopping with family. Traylor had on a big pair of white shorts and a T-shirt and was in a good mood. We mostly talked about the old days but he said he wanted to play a few more years of basketball before transitioning to other things in life. We exchanged numbers but never called one another. He seemed happy.
Traylor was not a great basketball player but he was a great athlete considering the 300 pounds he carried on his 6-foot-8 frame. And that leads us to how he got the name “Tractor” Traylor. I was covering the Class A basketball tournament during Traylor’s junior year. I’d heard about the tubby kid from the west side and wanted to see him play. There was a loose ball and one of Murray Wright’s point guard sped up the middle of the court with Traylor jetting on his right side. The guard flipped a no look pass toward the basket and I immediately thought “I know he does not think this fat guy is going to do anything with it.” I laughed inside. But Traylor rose to the basket, caught the ball with two hands and slammed it through. The place went wild. I remember his stride before the dunk. It was lumbering and loud and he seemed to eat up space like a truck or tractor. In my next day’s column I introduced the world to Robert “Tractor” Traylor. “I tell everybody who asks that you are the one who gave me that name,” Traylor said.