IF Michael Jordan, reassigned last week to the Chicago White Sox's minor-league camp, ever makes it as a major-league player, he would be far from the first athlete to compete in both the National Basketball Association and baseball's majors. Eight other players have done it before him, including Danny Ainge. Ainge, currently with the Phoenix Suns, spent two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays before switching to basketball and the Boston Celtics in 1981.
Like Ainge, Jordan has made a clear break with one sport to pursue another. Others in this fraternity switched back and forth between sports as the season changed, much the way Bo Jackson did between baseball and football, until an injury forced his retirement from football.
Maybe the most accomplished simultaneous two-sport pro was Gene Conley, who was a backup center to Bill Russell on the Boston Celtics of the 1950s. Conley also won a 1957 World Series game pitching for the Milwaukee Braves. The Braves, in fact, beat the Yankees in seven games, making Conley the only athlete to play on professional championship teams in both baseball and basketball. (The Celtics won three NBA titles with him in uniform.)
Before Conley, the Celtics had another two-sport athlete in Chuck Connors of TV's ``The Rifleman'' fame. Before Connors set out for Hollywood, he played two years for the Celtics beginning in 1946, as well as the 1951 baseball season for the Chicago Cubs.
Longtime Monitor sportswriter Phil Elderkin has always enjoyed telling his favorite Connors story, about the night in 1946 when Connors broke a glass backboard while warming up before the team's first-ever regular-season game. The contest, played in the Boston Arena, had to be delayed about an hour while the team's publicist raced to the Boston Garden, where a rodeo was playing, to retrieve another backboard from behind a Brahman bull cage.
The other members of the NBA-major league baseball club are Dave DeBusschere, Dick Groat, Steve Hamilton, Cotton Nash, and Ron Reed. NBA watches Europe
THE National Basketball Association runs abridged statistics from the one Spanish and two Italian leagues in its press releases. The statistical table makes it possible to keep tabs on many former NBA players. Guys who might be just spare parts in the NBA, if they made the grade at all, often are stars in Europe.
A flock of Americans averages 20 points or more overseas, but not one of them leads his league in scoring. Highest on the charts is Michael Smith, who is a distant second to Oscar Schmidt in the Spanish League: The Brazilian star pumps in 33.4 points per game, Smith a little more than 23.
It takes a well-versed basketball aficionado to recognize many of the US players in Europe - players like Fennis Dembo, Darren Daye, Terry Teagle, and Dennis Hopson. One name that jumps out at serious fans is Darryl Dawkins of ``Chocolate Thunder'' fame. That's what the fun-loving Dawkins, who now averages 18.3 points a game in Italy, called himself while playing in the NBA in the 1970s and '80s. He is one of the few players to enter the NBA directly from high school (Evans High School in Orlando, Fla.). He was a teammate of Julius (Dr. J) Erving on the Philadelphia 76ers.
The original backboard-shattering big man, Dawkins used to take great pleasure in naming his various slam dunks. A sample: Earth Quaker Shaker, Turbo Delight, Spine Chiller Supreme, and the Greyhound Bus Dunk, in which he went ``coast to coast'' (dribbled the length of the court). Touching other bases
* The least visible good idea at the Lillehammer Olympics was the netting strung up at both ends of the hockey rinks. It almost didn't seem to be there, until pucks threatened to fly into the crowd. Then these barely noticed backstops did the job, protecting spectators. Such nets should be made standard hockey equipment. Pucks, after all, are harder than baseballs and more difficult to catch when they fly out of play.
* Magic Johnson made a successful coaching debut Sunday, as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 110-101, before only the third sellout crowd the Lakers have had this season. The joint was jumpin'. The crowd gave Magic, decked out in a pin-striped suit, a two-minute standing ovation before the game, when his introduction was accompanied by a James Brown recording of ``I Feel Good.'' Given all this euphoria, it's important to remember that the club already had shown signs of new life before Johnson's arrival, winning six of its last eight games under deposed coach Randy Pfund. Nevertheless, Magic knows basketball, and if he can impart his knowledge of the team game to the Lakers, there's good reason for optimism.
* Just when it appeared that figure skating would enjoy a quiet world championship, with none of the Kerrigan-Harding sideshow, something occurred to stir the pot. France's Surya Bonaly rejected her silver medal in the women's competition, so upset was she by finishing behind host Japan's Yuka Sato, who won her first major international event. Bonaly, considered a gold-medal contender at last month's Olympics, wound up a disappointing fourth in Norway, one spot ahead of Sato. This time, with all the female Olympic medalists absent (Oksana Baiul, Nancy Kerrigan, and Lu Chen), their relative placement was reversed, an outcome that Bonaly may have perceived as a ``home country'' decision. However, Bonaly's skating style, which some view as energetic but lacking in grace, has has not always won over the judges in the past, either.
* After winning the Dinah Shore golf tournament Sunday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Donna Andrews jumped into the lake near the 18th green. The crowd urged her on, realizing this would be a fitting tribute to Shore, an avid golfer and promoter of the women's game whose name has been affiliated with the Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament since 1972. Shore passed on last month. In 1991, she had helped Amy Alcott celebrate a victory in the event by plunging into the lake with Alcott.
* Anyone wishing to gain an inside look at what a major college women's basketball program is like these days should find PBS's ``Frontline'' program, titled ``In the Game,'' an educational 60 minutes (tonight, check local listings). The broadcast follows Stanford's women's team during the 1989-90 season, when it won the national championship. Stanford won't be in the women's Final Four in Richmond, Va., this year, having lost to Purdue, 82-65, in a regional final over the weekend. Purdue will be joined by North Carolina, Louisiana Tech, and Alabama on April 2. The final is the next day.
* Those who organize the men's National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament must be pleased with the geographic diversity of this year's Final Four - Duke University (from North Carolina), plus the universities of Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona. Duke will be attempting to win its third national title in the last four seasons.