Jake's Take: Remembering "Tractor" - 05/13/11
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
It’s Wednesday, May 11 at approximately 5:30 p.m. I pull into the garage. I cut through the back yard, up the porch steps and open the back door. I walk through the kitchen, giving Uncle Leo (my dog, not the marker-browed “Seinfeld” character) a half-hearted pat on the head. I cross the living room, go up the stairs and hang a fat left into the bedroom. I open the closet door. I flip past the Brandon Jennings throwback, past the well-faded Barry Sanders jersey, past the Prince Fielder No. 28. I finally reach my intended destination.
I’m now laying my gaze upon the Robert “Tractor” Traylor jersey — Michigan maize, size 52 — that hangs delicately in the back of my closet. I take it off the white plastic hanger that it formerly draped from. I hold it up in front of the mirror and enjoy a quick moment of reflection. I pull the jersey over my head and place it onto my narrow shoulders for the first time in at least four years. It didn’t fit me when I first purchased it as a high school sophomore, and it doesn’t really fit me that well now despite an additional 10 inches to my frame. But it feels like it’s the least I can do.
The “Tractor” will be remembered by most in Milwaukee, and around the country for that matter, as the guy that could’ve been Dirk Nowitzki. It’s an easy association to make, although not an accurate one. I’ll always remember Traylor not as the guy who flamed out in the NBA, but as the guy who brought great potential for excitement to the Milwaukee frontcourt.
It’s rare that one of the local teams draft the exact guy I was hoping they’d take. Traylor was an exception to that rule. I could not have been more on board with the pick. I was clutching the reins to that bandwagon with the grip of a professional arm wrestler. I was more than ready for that burly power forward with the feathery touch to own the paint.
Traylor joined a frontcourt that was two years removed from Vin Baker manning the block. The new rotation of big men included names like Tyrone Hill, Armen Gilliam, Ervin Johnson and Scott Williams; quasi-memorable players to be sure, but not exactly a murderer’s row of low-post dominance. There was an opportunity for Traylor to make a big impact on the Bucks. With Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen, Dell Curry and Sam Cassell/Terrell Brandon roaming the perimeter, Milwaukee was in dire need of a big man to balance the scales.
“Tractor” certainly had the résumé to do so. I first became aware of Traylor during the 1995 McDonald’s High School All-American game. Surrounded by the likes of Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter and Paul Pierce, it was the nimble-footed Traylor who immediately grabbed my attention. The big man displayed an amazing level of agility despite his shorts routinely falling off his ample behind. The fact he would be attending Michigan in the fall only cemented his place atop the list of my favorite college players.
The Fab Five preceded Traylor by four years, with Jimmy King and Ray Jackson graduating just prior to Traylor’s arrival on campus. It was King and Jackson, along with Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard, that got me hooked on Michigan basketball in the early to mid-1990s. This was a program that could do no wrong. I loved everything about it. And all indications were that Traylor would carry on the legacy left by the Fab Five.
In his three years at Michigan, Traylor averaged 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting better than 56 percent. He capped his collegiate career with 16.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals per game during his junior season.
He did all of this with a unique athleticism that left jaws on the floor and rims on the fritz. Whether it was the opposing frontcourt or shards of glass, nothing stood in his path. Most assumed Traylor’s hefty frame would be his biggest impediment. I never really saw it as that significant of a hurdle. All I saw was a huge mass of a man who would put one on an opponent’s head at any opportunity, and he’d do so with the joy of a teenager dunking for the very first time. Not that I’d know what that feels like.
It’s weird how some people can have a significant effect on a person for less than obvious reasons. Traylor’s NBA career failed to take the path that most were hoping it’d take. Yet, that never deterred me from continuing to root for Traylor. From his time as a high schooler, to his three years as a Wolverine, to his brief tenure as a Buck, I always held out hope that he’d eventually make a niche for himself in the NBA.
That’s the reason his Michigan jersey has been hanging in the many closets I’ve packed over the last decade-plus, and while it’ll likely continue to occupy the corners of my closets for a few decades more. A deep appreciation — and complete lack of monetary discipline — of his game led me to buy his jersey despite the fact that it hung to my knees. I was powerless. A continued admiration of the potential he once offered is what allowed the jersey to inhabit those closets for so many years.
I could’ve easily donated the jersey to the local Goodwill during any spring cleaning, but it just wasn’t that easy for me. My closet just wouldn’t be the same without Traylor’s No. 54 keeping the other jerseys in line. Traylor may have left this Earth in a not-nearly-long-enough 34 years, but he’ll live on in other ways for many years to come.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.