YOU PROBABLY REMEMBER Larry O'Brien as the fellow who helped steer John F. Kennedy to the White House and then tried to make sense out of the postal service for Lyndon Johnson.He is an amiable fellow, as well recall, but with a certain toughness, and both qualities should serve him well in his present position as the commissioner of the National Basketball Association.(TABLE)ow taken a major step toward bringing violence in sports under control: He has fined Kermit Washington, a Los Angeles player, $10,000 and suspended him for 60 days. Given Mr. Washington's current pay, that works out to a penalty of more than $50,000 (before taxes).His offense was slugging a Houston player, Rudy Tomjanovich, who arrived - belatedly - on the scene of a fight. Mr. Tomjanovich got the worst of it. He is in the hospital with a fractured jaw and nosw and an injured eye. Mr. Tomjanovich's injuries were unusually severe, but the unhappy fact of the matter is that the fight itself was hardly unique. Basketball has become increasingly violent in recent years, and so have football and hockey. Fights have become a commonplace occurrence, and deliberate attempts to injure opposing players or provoke them into fights are not unknown. In fact, while we have no quarrel with the penalty Mr. O'Brien imposed, we think it is worth remembering that Mr. Washington's sudden swing at Mr. Tomjanovich was very much in keeping with the atmosphere that has developed on the court and that has been nurtured by some coaches - never mind their pious words to the contrary last week. The Kermit Washington performance, for example, was no more outrageous than the behavior of Adrian Dantley who, a few days earlier, forced his way into the opposing team's dressing room to start a fight. Mr. Dantley was suspended for three days.(COLUMN)Nevertheless, Mr. O'Brien had to start somewhere. Now he must keep after the violence. Professional basketball's tolerance of violence has already had its effect on many young would-be basketball stars. The lesson given them constantly via television is that you can ovecome your shortcomings as a player - in basketball, football or hockey - if you are mean enough or play dirty enough to intimidate your opponents. That lesson, we suspect, is carried off the playing fields into other aspects of life by the young.(COLUMN)Mr. O'Brien recognizes this. Unfortunately, others involved in professional sports do not. When John Ziegler, president of the National Hockey League, was asked about fighting, he said, "I do not find it unacceptable when two men, in a frustrated state, decide to drop their sticks and gloves and take swings at each other." Well, we and many others do. What is the difference between professional athletes fighting because they are frustrated and politicians or businessmen fighting when they become frustrated? In civilized communities, laws and rules replaced fighting long ago as the way of settling disputes. Isn't it about time that the hockey and basketball and other professional sports establishments joined civilization? (END TABLE)