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October 20, 2017

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NBA Day 8: ‘Tractor’ out to prove he can still play

The little tractor hasn’t seen the big tractor play at the elite level of professional basketball. More than anything, that fuels Robert “Tractor” Traylor’s drive to return to the NBA.

That’s why the 6-foot-9, 300-pound Traylor has been out running with the greenhorns and neophytes, for the Cleveland Cavaliers, at the NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion.

Nobody else in the summer league comes close to the 428 games that the 31-year-old Traylor has logged in the NBA over seven seasons.

“That would be a great thing, junior watching me play at the highest level,” Traylor said of 4-year-old Robert Traylor Jr. “I have a lot left, maybe five, six years. I’ve just started to scratch the surface.”

Junior had barely taken his first breath when his pop last grabbed a rebound in the NBA.

Since then, Senior has dealt with some issues.

In November 2006, he underwent aortic valve surgery to keep playing basketball. Doctors said he would likely lead a full life if he didn’t have the procedure, but he wanted to return to the court.

“Being an athlete, you feel a level of invincibility,” he said. “You feel you can get through anything, but it was a tough three months of recuperation. I pressed myself to get back and had a little setback, but it made me a tougher person.”

The threat of federal prison might have toughened him, too, but he dodged that in September when he was sentenced to three years probation for preparing a false tax return that hid assets of a convicted drug dealer.

That was Quasand Lewis, Traylor’s cousin and the kingpin of a notorious organized crime ring in Detroit.

By the time he was busted by federal authorities in 2004, Lewis had reportedly made about $178 million selling marijuana and cocaine in the metropolitan Detroit area. He had associates who were linked to multiple murders.

Lewis will be in federal prison until 2025.

He tried buying $4 million in property through Traylor, so it would look legitimate. Traylor faced eight to 14 months in prison in a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn was lenient since it appeared Traylor was only guilty of being naïve.

He served three months of the probation in a halfway house and was under home confinement for three months.

As affable, outgoing and quick with a smile as ever, Traylor did not dodge any question that was fired at him Friday night about his past.

Embarrassing, Traylor admitted after scoring five points and grabbing six boards in the Cavaliers' loss to the Washington Wizards at Cox. But when you’re raised in the tough west side of Detroit and a family member needs help, it’s difficult to say no.

Traylor has been active, playing for the Santurce Crabbers in Puerto Rico the past two seasons. The Crabbers won the league title two seasons ago and lost in the semifinals this past season.

When Traylor entered the game against the Wizards, he received a rousing ovation from a few dozen fans who knew his past.

On the court after the game, JaVale McGee, the 20-year-old, 7-foot center out of UNR who battled Traylor in the post, said he knew nothing about Traylor.

During the game, despite his girth and whatever rust he has accumulated, Traylor showed bright flashes. He was nimble in the post and showed a nifty passing touch.

He’d like to drop 10 or 15 pounds by the time camp starts. With the solid relationships he has in Santurce, Puerto Rico is a solid option. But he years to return to the big time.

“He has a great opportunity to be in the league,” said Cleveland summer coach John Kuester. “He’s wonderful to be around. He’s still explosive and he’s getting back into shape. He knows how to play and has a great feel for the game. I’m impressed with him.

“Unbelievable, isn’t it?”

Cleveland plays New Orleans on Saturday in the Mack at 7:30 p.m. and goes up against Milwaukee on Sunday, the final day of the summer league, at 3:30 p.m. at the Mack.

Traylor made $11.7 million in his career. Although he might not have made the wisest investment decisions – or distanced himself from certain family members when he should have – he said returning to the NBA isn’t about a big payday.

It’s about Junior being able to see his father do what he does best.

Is the little tractor growing into a big tractor?

Senior laughed.

“He’s actually a little small-framed right now,” Traylor said. “He’s growing, height-wise. But he’s not as thick. He’s getting there, slowly.”

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