Robert "Tractor" Traylor's tragic death shook the basketball world Wednesday because he was such a recognizable name despite a short NBA career. Part of this has to do with his size and strength, which is how his nickname developed. Part of it has to do with his tremendous career at the University of Michigan. Part of that has to do with his personality, which made him easy to support.
Nevertheless, it's hard to view Traylor's NBA career as a bit of a disappointment. Throughout his career, he battled weight problems and a heart ailment that required surgery in 2006. He never made it back to the NBA, thanks in part to NBA teams increasingly getting worried about heart issues in the wake of Atlanta's Jason Collier's death a year earlier, and Traylor instead played in Europe for several seasons. When he did play in the NBA, he only averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14 minutes a game in seven seasons for four different teams. The 1999 lockout derailed him, as did injuries early in his career, and he never got back on track.
A lot of that was his own doing, but a lot of it was also because he was the victim of circumstance. He was drafted No. 6 overall in the 1998 NBA Draft, and was immediately traded for Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki quickly emerged as a superstar for the Mavericks, while Traylor struggled for the Bucks. He was unfairly compared to the big German, even after a trade to Cleveland and then the Hornets. This undoubtedly caused a lot of the disappointment we had in his NBA career to be magnified.
Ultimately, Traylor's career accomplishments pale in comparison to the tragedy of his death.. But his disappointment in the NBA is a shame because so many people wanted him to succeed, and he just couldn't as much as we wanted. Now, he departs from us way too soon.