Bird is the word this year but Magic shows basketball its future, the staggering possibilities when a man as tall as most college centers is blessed with the imagination of passing instincts of players barely able to reach his chin.

Earvin Johnson is a 6-foot-8 playmaker-and perhaps you ought to pause a few moments to realize the enormity of that. Imagine history,s great lead guards, the swift and the clever feeders off the the break.

Exactly, you have gone thrlugh Cousy and the other Mcguire, Dick, Lenny Wilkens and perhaps a half-doxen others, amd now Magic,s impact is beinning to take shape. Everybody who comes to mind is half a head shorter.

Some of you will groel that Oscar Robertson, at 6-5, was a point guard--and a fossil or two will recall that 6-7 Tom Gola played that role for Lasalle. But neither was as swift as Magic--and anyone who has not seen his show had better gather in a hurry, for much of what makes him specal as a collegian will nake him an ordinary pro.

"I hope you sifn smewhere for $500,000," one scout told him earlier this season. "then maybe you can buy yourself a jump shot."

Yes, Magic,s act is incomplete. He might well be the best outside player who couldn,t hit Mount Rushmore from 15 feet. Still, he might be outlawed if he could shoot. And did anone demand his money back because Houdini failed to do card tricks?

Magoc lives tor one number on the stat sheet -- assists. And today, in the championship of the NCAA Mideast Regional, he threw 13 assists at Notre Dame, some of them with off-the-hip passes and one an pver-the-shoulder flip that had even Irish eyes smiling.

"Our (defensive) game plan was to lau pff Johnson," said Notre Dame guard Bill Hanzlik. "He,s not a great lshooter guys tried to play the passing lanes."

There was one problem with that tactic. Magic has a teammate, Greg Kelser, with a mind and leaping ability capable of making the alley-oop pass work almost at will. As Hanzlik and everybody else soon realized, the Michighigan State passing lanes were 12 feet off the floor.

Magic's show is a joy to behold, partly because he has so much fun performing. At game's end, when the Spartans advanced to the NCAA semifinals with a 12-point victory, he did a dizzy ballet of delight for half the court before Terry Donnelly grabbed him and they fell to the floor in each other's arms.

In truth, every Spartan strength played to an Irish weakness. Notre Dame recruits Clydesdales instead of quarter horses, so it had no one even remotely capable of keeping in step with Magic or Kelser.

The contrast was so great that an injured player, regular center Jay Vincent, who can scarcely trot, faked Bill Laimbeer out of his sneakers and limped by him for an uncontested layup.

So how did Magic become so special? How can a player so large be so adept at the small-men's game when he is so much larger than everyone else on the playgrounds Johnson is one magician who enjoys revealing his secrets.

When I was growing up (in East Lansing)," he said, "I would go to the Main Street playground at 7:30 or 8 in the morning, by myself, and play fullcourt games. I'd be Philadelphia at one end, because Wilt Chamberlain was my hero, and L.A. or the Knicks at the other.

"I'd always work it so Philly won, but that's where I developed my dribbling. I'd dribble and dribble everywhere. That's where I got pretty good at that.

"Then, about 9 or 10, my brother (larry) would come out and we'd go one-on-one full court. He,s 6 foot or 6-1, and he'd put lots of pressure on me.

"But the passing, that came with me. Nobody taught me how. It's just in me. I come with it."

Being himself, he usually ignored the early taunts of defender Hanzlik to "Shoot, shoot."

"When I get it (the shot), I shoot it," Magic said.

"But not when he tells me. When I felt I could make them, I took them. And like I told him: I'm a better shooter than he thought I was."

At a time when most youngsters are preparing themselves to be gunners, Magic was practicing altruism. Now he must play catch-up with his outside shot to make more than a modest impact on the NBA. There are whispers he diverts when-ever possible that Magic will turn pro and skip his final two seasons at MSU.

"He's a great open-cout player," said Bullets' General Manager Bob Ferry. "But the big question is how good he's going to be in a set offense.

He's almost exactly opposite of Indiana State's Larry Bird. The big question is how good he's going to be in a set offense.

He's almost exactly opposite of Indiana State's Larry Bird. The big question is his shooting,because here -- and especially in the playoffs -- you're lucky to see two fast breaks a game."

Bird and Johnson are the two most exciting collegiate players this season -- and a sign here today alluded to their possible confrontation in the NCAA final: "You haven't seen magic until you've seen The Bird."

"I'd love to play him," Magic said, "because that would mean we'd be playing for thenational championship. One-on-one? Sure. It'd be a challenge. And I love challenges."