A DELICIOUS ``what if'' possibility has passed quietly into the National Basketball Association night. When the Washington Bullets signed 7 ft., 6 in. Manute Bol to a 10-day contract Feb. 21, many wondered if Bol and Bullets' rookie Gheorghe Muresan, the league's tallest player at 7 ft., 7 in., would ever be given the opportunity to play side by side. If paired, they were natural ``Washington Monuments,'' a one-two punch even more skyscraping than Houston's ``Twin Towers'': Rockets starters Hakeem Olajuwon (7 ft.) and Ralph Sampson (7 ft., 4 in.), who played together from 1984 to 1988.
But Bol was released before he and Muresan could test a Star Wars-style defense in a game. After his brief stint with the Bullets, the slumping Philadelphia 76ers signed Bol to help fill the gap left by injured 7 ft., 6 in. rookie Shawn Bradley.
Bol is fast becoming one of the most-traveled members of the league. Since entering the NBA in 1985 - with Washington - the Sudanese native has been a low-impact journeyman whose main playing contribution has come as a shot blocker. From Washington, he went to Golden State for two years, was traded to Philadelphia, and began this season with the Miami Heat.
Like Bol, Muresan still needs a lot of polish. But whereas the spindly Bol has not bulked up the way some NBA teams hoped he would - he weighs only 225 lbs. - Muresan, a Romanian, entered the league with the desired girth. Bullets general manager John Nash has called the 315-lb. rookie a ``pleasant surprise,'' adding that he likes Muresan's competitiveness. And teammate Kevin Duckworth says that in practice, when Muresan gets the ball in good position, he can score - something Bol, whose career average is less than three points per game, seldom does. Muresan averages 5.3 points, but he only plays about 12 minutes a night. His respectable 64 percent free-throw accuracy indicates he is no mere dunkmeister.
The ``Twin Towers'' experiment, by the way, was reasonably successful. Olajuwon and Sampson managed to take the Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics. After that, Sampson's career nose-dived and today he is an assistant coach at James Madison University in Virginia, his home state. Olajuwon, meanwhile, remains with the Rockets and is considered a leading Most Valuable Player candidate. Fair Jordan
MOST people assume that Michael Jordan's biggest challenge in making the grade in baseball will come at the plate. Can he hit major-league pitching, observers wonder. But if he latches on with the Chicago White Sox, after nine years with basketball's Chicago Bulls, Jordan will face an interesting mental adjustment, too.
In basketball, a very active sport, he was the guy with the ball, making things happen. But in baseball, a sport of relative inaction, he'll have to stand in the field waiting for the game to come to him. An outfielder may have only a few opportunities all game long to make plays. Jordan made a nice diving catch last week in right field and a reaching grab earlier this week, but he badly misplayed a ball earlier. To earn a spot in the majors, he will have to display consistency in scattered tests of his ability, unlike the rat-a-tat-tat tests in basketball.
On Monday, Jordan got his first hit, breaking an 0-for-14 slump with an infield single against Minnesota that drew a standing ovation. ``I promised myself I was going to step toward the pitcher,'' he said. ``I wasn't going to step toward third base.'' Earlier he made a head-first steal of second base after walking to first.
No roster moves are expected until this weekend, after which Jordan could find himself assigned to the minors, a decision he reportedly is willing to accept. Geographic gaffe
JUST as a basketball player occasionally dribbles one off his foot, so do writers. How else to explain the big-time blooper in March 15's ``Sports Notebook,'' when Richmond, Va., was inexplicably annexed by neighboring North Carolina? In the absence of a factory recall, perhaps a heartfelt apology will suffice.Touching other bases
* Why is the the National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament such a good ``view''? Let me count the ways: Navy, Boise State, Pepperdine, North Carolina A&T, Tennessee State, Drexel, Rider. What we have here is a college catalog, a geography lesson, and an energized playoff all in one. North Carolina, Purdue, Arkansas, and Missouri are the top seeds in this year's tournament, which tips off tonight and concludes April 4 in Charlotte, N.C. ``Parity'' is this year's password. During one stretch of the regular season, the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll lost seven weeks in a row.
* That a team from Minnesota (Bemidji State University) won the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II ice hockey championship last weekend was no surprise.
The real news was that the University of Alabama-Huntsville was the opponent and the host of the first NCAA hockey championship game played in the Deep South. Alabama-Huntsville began playing hockey on the club level in 1979, eventually moved up to Division I before the realization set in that the the school's natural level was one rung below that.
In an unusual two-game championship format, the teams split victories and had to play a 15-minute ``mini-game,'' after which they were still tied 1-1. Bemidji State scored in a sudden-death overtime to secure its third national title.