Part of Michael Jordan’s legacy has nothing to do with basketball. When the greatest NBA player ever retired in 1993, people were confused. It became fodder for gossip and conspiracy theories that last to this day. Jordan, however, was not the NBA’s first pro baseball player, nor was he the last.
Baseball and basketball, while not having many Deion Sanders or Bo Jacksons, have a connected history. And the following NBA players prove it.
Baseball and basketball: a love story
In high school and college, sports are broken up in ways where athletes often play in more than one. In pro sports, this all changes. Practice, travel, team events, and playoffs make balancing any two sports difficult, but especially those with the two longest seasons in professional sports.
Despite these difficulties, however, each of these athletes either preceded in or followed Jordan’s footsteps and kept their baseball dreams alive.
Danny Ainge was a star basketball player at BYU while concurrently playing MLB for the Toronto Blue Jays, according to ESPN. Selected in the 1977 amateur draft, Ainge was a utility MLB player, where he performed in 211 games over his two-year career.
Ainge’s path to college basketball and the NBA after his baseball career is a unique feat that will be hard to replicate in future generations.
For NBA fans in 2020, Gene Conley may not be a household name. As ESPN reports, he played in the NBA off and on from 1952 to 1964. Interspersed with his NBA life was a successful MLB career as an All-Star pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves. Conley played in one NBA season from 1952-53 before spending a few years pitching, then returned.
From there, Conley served as a role player for the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell. Thanks to this, Conley has the distinction of being the only player to win both an NBA championship and World Series.
Even the most ardent NBA fans may not know about Tracy McGrady’s MLB career, but it does exist. After retiring from the NBA, McGrady made a brief visit to the Atlantic League, a semi-pro baseball league that’s historically used gimmicks when hiring talent. McGrady, who pitched in high school, threw for a 6.75 ERA in four appearances with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
McGrady’s name recognition got him into the Atlantic League’s All-Star Game. After throwing his first career strikeout, he left the mound and retired. “It has been a tremendous ride,” McGrady said per CBS Houston. “It is my last game today … I appreciate them giving me this opportunity to start the game and enjoy this great mid-summer classic.”
Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton has become a valuable role player. His basketball career may eventually be put on hold, however. Connaughton was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2014, and the team even signed him to a $428,000 bonus.
According to an NBA.com interview, Connaughton has not dismissed the idea of eventually trying his hand at pro baseball.
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