Michael Jordan spends enough time in the air to get frequent-flyer miles. And while he is hanging there, rim-high, comfortably, as though in an easy chair waiting for a lob to stuff, the man who invented basketball skywalking shakes his head in awe.

"I never imagined it would get to this point," Hank Luisetti was saying over the phone from his home in suburban San Francisco. "I might have gotten a foot off the ground, at the most. Jordan must get four. Watching him and some others on television, I think it's a miracle they don't often hit the backboard."

During his city-by-city coming-out party in the NBA, Jordan has played the games on and off the court exceptionally, smiling at the familiar horde of unfamiliar faces engulfing him in the Chicago Bulls' dressing rooms and saying: "I hear the same questions all the time, but go ahead and ask 'em again; I've got the same lines anyway."

There was one stumper of a question:

Does the name Hank Luisetti mean anything?

Can't say that it does, Jordan admitted.

Informed that Luisetti is generally accepted as being the first human ever to lift himself off the floor and shoot a basketball, Jordan's interest perked. Somebody had to be first, of course.

"He admires your work," I said.

Jordan snapped away from casually packing a duffel bag. His manner was incredulous, in the way it might have been during a 38-point performance this night against the Bullets if his trunks had decided not to join the rest of him on a stratospheric jumper.

"He's still alive? " Jordan said.

Sure is.

Jordan shook his head in wonderment.

And why not? The fellow who made the first baseball bend away from a batter's waist and over the plate might have been buried before the turn of the century. Football passes fluttered, though not far, in the early 1900s.

It took a while for basketball to dribble out of the stagnant swamp of tradition; more than four decades, in fact, from its beginning in 1891.

In basketball, if it didn't happen in college games in the effete East, it didn't happen. So those rumors of one-handers by a guy out west who actually got off the ground during launch were dismissed as lunacy.

Luisetti unknowingly began to revolutionize his sport long before arriving at Stanford in 1934.

"I started shooting one-handed in the late '20s, when I was a kid," he said. "It started on the playground, because I couldn't get the ball to the basket shooting with two hands. I only weighed about 70 pounds. The only way I could get it there was to use one hand and kind of push my body behind it. Yes, it must have looked like I was shot-putting. Then I began jumping, to get the ball over the guard's head.

"Fortunately, all of my coaches let me alone."

They did this for the same reason nobody messed with Oscar Robertson or Elgin Baylor, or told Bob Cousy that shooting off his front foot was pretty stupid.

"I can't remember anybody who could do more things (than Luisetti)," the mentor of mentors, Clair Bee, once said.

Clever players about the country in the early '30s who never heard tell of this Luisetti fella also were using their bodies in ways like Luisetti. They were going into the air, but dropping out of favor.

"I remember in high school being trapped once in some sort of zone near the free throw line," said the executive director of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Lee Williams. "This must have been in '35.

"Anyway, to escape, I jumped up and shot. Don't know whether the ball went in or not." It must not have, for his fast thinking was met with a slow burn from the coach.

"He said: 'Williams, you get to the locker room. Nobody shoots shots one-handed except for layups.' "

Seeing that moment -- and then Jordan -- in his mind, Williams laughed.

Luisetti was the Wright brothers of roundball; Kitty Hawk was Madison Square Garden Dec. 30, 1936, the night, according to "College Basketball, USA," that "Luisetti changed basketball."

Before 17,623 doubters and against Bee's Long Island University powerhouse that had been unbeaten in 43 games, Luisetti (according to the astonished New York Times) "could do no wrong."

The 45 points Stanford amassed, to LIU's 31, was exceptional for the times. Luisetti had 15, plus numerous assists and rebounds and, very likely, a behind-the-back dribble or two.

Most everybody agrees that Luisetti got the jumper off the ground, Baylor took it into outer space and Julius Erving and Jordan have taken it outta sight.

Luisetti was 6 feet 3 and could high-jump 6-6. At 69, he has been retired more than two years, and treats himself to such as Jordan on television whenever possible.

Like so many others, the old gunner also admires Jordan for his zest at both ends of the court and unselfish attitude.

Counting the several-month Olympic experience, Jordan has had only one nonbasketball day in recent memory: Christmas. He did take a couple weeks off between winning the gold medal in the Los Angeles Games and the beginning of Bulls camp, but volunteers:

"I played golf in the morning, basketball at night. Burnout? Nah. I used to play basketball every day anyway."

Before and after games, Jordan also plays hard -- at selling himself. Of all the commercials shot at odd hours, inconvenient locations and in endless retakes, only one struck him as goofy.

"Girl Scout cookies," he said. "Tell me that isn't crazy. It was a radio spot, and I had to read it. Felt really funny, cause I never sold 'em, never was in the Girl Scouts."

Neither has Jordan leaped over the Chicago skyline, though he seems to be doing just that in a catchy poster for the shoe he pitches.

(That shoe is the only part of his makeup even close to ugly, a wild collection of black, white and red, as though it were tooled from the hide of an embarrassed zebra.)

Nearly ready to leave Capital Centre for a late dinner with his parents, Jordan suddenly let Luisetti's legacy slide back into his thoughts and said: "Someone will go higher than me."

That hoopstronaut will really raise the roof. Or raze it.