The nondescript appearance of the Nissan dealership, a red-brick building sitting unobtrusively along a strip of Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie that is teeming with dealerships, belies the greatness to which it is connected.

Or rather, airness. For more than a year, the former Ritchie Nissan has been co-owned by Michael Jordan. The Michael Jordan. Of the Chicago Bulls basketball team.

Michael Jordan Nissan ads, complete with a blurry snapshot of the uber-player, have been placed discreetly in the classified sections of local papers since the Michael Jordan Automotive Group took over the facility in November 1995. But the makeshift banner outside announces only "Nissan of Glen Burnie."

The reason for the lack of fanfare, explains Pat Pascarella, co-owner of the dealership, is that the site is not yet up to standards befitting the Jordan name.

"He's first-class. The other dealerships are first-class. But right now, this place is no-class," joked Pascarella, referring to the Durham, N.C., Nissan and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships that, together with the Glen Burnie site, make up the dealerships in the Michael Jordan Automotive Group.

Pascarella is president of the group, which consists of himself, Jordan and Curtis Polk. Polk is president of FAME, the Washington-based sports management and law firm of David Falk's, who is Jordan's agent.

Falk and Polk give Jordan, a North Carolina native, the local connection to his business. "They're pretty well aware of markets in this area, {and} they won't let us make a bad investment," Pascarella said. He said the Michael Jordan Automotive Group hopes to buy more dealerships in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Although Jordan owns 65 percent of the Glen Burnie dealership, he has not yet been there. He has offices in both Durham dealerships and visits them during the basketball off-season, Pascarella said.

"I can't ever speak for Michael, but I'd imagine once it's done, he'd like to come and see his investment," Pascarella said. Though Jordan doesn't own a Nissan, he "often has one or two out on loan, like everyone in the car business," Polk said. The dealership's $3.5 million renovation, slated to start in April and be completed by Nov. 1, will transform the drab building into a 19,000-square-foot, "state-of-the-art structure, {with} a lot of glass and steel; very bright, very open," Pascarella said.

It will feature, of course, a distinct basketball theme, with hoops and a scoreboard to track promotional sales. Children will be able to sit in bleachers and watch Jordan highlights on a large-screen TV while mom and dad shop, Pascarella said.

The dealership does a good business now, selling about 60 new cars a month. It gives away Nike Air Jordan merchandise to buyers, Pascarella said.

"That's about all this facility can handle right now, but we expect {car sales} to at least double" once renovations are complete and the dealership starts playing up the Jordan connection, he said.

Although a big name might attract car shoppers, it will not necessarily make a profitable business, said Carl Smalls, investment adviser to the Detroit Lions and a professor of finance at the University of Detroit Mercy.

"Having Michael Jordan's name will attract you, but it ain't gonna keep you," he said. "It's like dating. The good looks will attract you, but it's the treatment that counts. And Michael Jordan's not going to be servicing your car."

Robert Young didn't buy his used '93 Ford Probe from the Glen Burnie dealership in January because of Jordan, although he did see the ad. "I thought it was just a gimmick," he said.

But when a salesperson told him that Jordan was, in fact, an owner, "I was like Good for him,' " Young said. "I like Mike."

Young said he feels better buying something from a name he knows and likes, "especially if it's an athlete I like."

Athletes looking for places to invest their hefty salaries -- Jordan's, at $30.1 million, is the largest one-year salary in professional sports team history -- frequently turn to auto dealerships. Like restaurants, car dealerships appeal to athletes because they complement their lifestyles, not necessarily because they're money-makers, Smalls said.

"When they're not playing, these guys are eating out a lot and buying cars. That's what they're exposed too," Smalls said. "Remember, athletes have egos, and they're going to invest in businesses that have their names on them."

Smalls tries to steer athletes away from such ego-gratifying investments as auto dealerships, which can be risky. Jordan's dealerships could make a hefty profit, but they could lose a lot, too, "and it's the losses you've gotta think about," he said.

In an age when popular athletes are highly sought as product pitchmen, industry watchers agree that an athlete's name will only enhance an auto business if the player is not only known but also trusted and liked.

"I would imagine that I would get a lot more mileage with Michael Jordan than with Dennis Rodman," Pascarella said. CAPTION: MICHAEL JORDAN