The Last Dance

Michael Jordan wasn't the only one, the 13 other NBA players who had a connection to the MLB

Michael Jordan's time in baseball is well known to everyone for how strange it was that the best player in basketball history left the sport at his best to dedicate himself to a completely different sport which he had not played since adolescence. MJ's baseball journey lasted just a few months without him appearing in a game in the majors but 13 other NBA players at one point play in the MLB.

List of NBA players to play in the MLB
Name Years in NBA Years in MLB
Danny Ainge 1981-1985 1979-1981
Frank Baumholtz 1946 1947-1949 / 1951-1957
Gene Conley 1952-1964 1952 / 1954-1963
Chuck Connors 1946-1948 1949/1951
Dave DeBusschere 1962-1973 1962-1963
Dick groat 1952-1953 1952 / 1955-1967
Steve Hamilton 1958-1960 1961-1972
Mark Hendrickson 1996-1999 2002-2011
Cotton Nash 1964-1965 1967 / 1969-1970
Ron Reed 1965-1966 1966-1984
Dick Ricketts 1955-1957 1959
Howie Schultz 1949-1952 1943-1948
Johnny Gee 1946 1939-1946

Danny Ainge

The name that stands out the most from the list today might be Danny Ainge the Celtics' President of Basketball Operations. Born in Eugene, Oregon, in 1959, Ainge was a multi-sport star in high school. He was chosen among the nation's best in basketball, baseball, and school football in 1977. That year he chose to quit soccer but pursue his sports career in two ways: baseball, the sport in which he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays of the MLB, and basketball after he had received a scholarship from BYU University.

On the court, Ainge was a stud winning the Wooden Award in 1981. The years prior, however, he would make his MLB debut and became the youngest player to hit a Homerun in Toronto Blue Jays history at just 20 years and 77 days old. Vladimir Guerroro Jr. has since broken the record. Ainge played in the majors from 1979 to 1981 acclimating 146 hits, 2 home runs and scored 57 runs in 211 games. He left the game with a .220 career batting average.

Ainge would eventually choose hoops and was selected with the 31st pick in the '81 NBA Draft by the Celtics. His NBA career lasted until 1996, helping Boston win two championships in '84 and '86. He selected as an All-Star in 1988. His most productive season came in 1989-90 as a member of the Sacramento Kings averaging 17.9 points, 6 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He's been in the Celtics front office since 2003.

Mark Hendrickson

Mark Hendrickson is the last player with NBA ties to appear in the majors. Like Ainge, Hendrickson also was a multi-sport athlete in school: basketball, baseball, and tennis. A native of Washington state, he elected to go to Washington State University in 1992 after receiving a scholarship to play both baseball and basketball.

Hendricks made his major league debut as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays on August 6th, 2002 as a relief pitcher. He'd spend time with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, L.A. Dodgers, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles. He finished with a career record of 58-74 and a career ERA of 5.03.

Before he ever made it to the MLB, Hendrickson was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the '96 NBA Draft. He appeared in 114 career games for the 76ers, Sacramento Kings, New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Today Henrickson works as pitching coach for the Aberdeen IronBirds, the minor-league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He told the Baltimore Sun that a career in golf isn't out of the question: "To be honest, I love being an athlete."

Dave Debusschere

Hall of Famer Dave Debusschere was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1962. Debusschere would pitch for the Sox for two seasons with his highlight coming against the Cleveland Indians in the 1963 season where he pitched a shutout. Debusschere only had 22 career at-bats and only recorded one hit in his major league career.

His last major league appearance came on September 2, 1963. He left the game with a 3-4 pitching record and a 2.90 career ERA.

Debusschere was selected in the 1962 NBA Draft as a territorial pick by the Detroit Pistons. Debusschere had gone to Detroit Mercy University and fell under the territorial rights of the Pistons. He would stay with Detroit until 1968 when he was traded to the New York Knicks.

He would help the Knicks win their two championships in 1970 and 1973. Debusschere was named First-team All-Defence every year of his career after the honour was created in the1968-69 season.

Debusschere was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Those who didn't make it to the major leagues

Jordan wasn't the only one who failed in their attempt to make it to the majors. Scott Burrell, who won a ring with the 1998 Bulls, is the only person to be chosen in the first round by both leagues (pick 26 in 1989 in the MLB, pick 20 in 1993 in the NBA). He never appeared in the MLB instead deciding to stick with basketball.

Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton was the first African-American to play in NBA. He was named an All-Star in 1957 becoming the first African-American to earn the honour. Prior to joining the NBA Clifton played in an all-black professional baseball league for the New York Renaissance. He also played for the Chicago American Giants of the Negro leagues.

Clifton was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014 as a contributor.

Pat Connaughton played both baseball and basketball at the University of Notre Dame. In 2014 he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the MLB Draft. He played in the minor leagues that year and took home a $400,000 bonus, but did not return to the sport after being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015.

His connection to the sport, however, remains strong. At the 2020 All-Star Weekend, he participated in the dunk contest and performed a dunk with Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich.

Tracy McGrady also had a baseball dream. The seven-time All-Star decided to pursue that dream in 2014, a few months after retiring from the NBA.

McGrady signed with the SugarLand Skeeters from a suburban Houston neighbourhood, where he had been a hero in the NBA with the Rockets. He played just four games in the Little Atlantic League, allowing four hits and five runs. He retired after recording a strikeout in the league's All-Star Game.

"I couldn't finish my basketball career the way I wanted, but here it was an honour to befriend some of my teammates and learn from them every day," said McGrady upon retiring.

The views expressed here do not reflect those of the NBA or its clubs.

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