These ears may never be the same. They have heard lots of things, but never anything like this. They heard a sportswriter say he would pay his own money to see a game. Sportswriters are cheap. They don't pay to see anything, unless, of course, there is a public hanging of the person who checks the expense accounts.

We now see Dan Lauck of Newsday, the Long Island daily, one of America's best sporting scribblers.

"The Magic man," these ears hear Lauck saying. "And the Bird."

(Sportswriters talk funny. All this will be put into English in a minute.)

"I never thought I'd say such a thing," Lauck said. "But I'd pay my own money to see a game with Magic against Bird."

Our ears must have turned red because Lauck, struggling against this irrationality, said with a sheepish smile, "A $5 ticket, tops."

Magic is Earvin Johnson, a 6-foot-8 sophomore on the Michigan State basketball team.

Bird is Larry Bird, a 6-9 senior on the Indiana State basketball team.

They are not Dr. J flying.

They are not David Thompson slam-dunking.

Bill Walton can go climb a tree in the Philippines to weigh a baby eagle.

We need none of these guys.

We have Magic and the Bird.

They pass the ball.

They are fun.

As it always is, the NCAA's basketball tournament is the sweetest sports music of the year to these ears. At the end of a season remarkable for extraordinary competition (the top 10 teams in the latest ratings averaged more than eight losses apice), the NCAA's 40-team tournament has produced extraordinary results.

A wise-guy sportswriter (blush) advised his readers two weeks ago that Indiana State would lose in the Midwest Regional. He saw North Carolina winning in the East and UCLA in the West. Alas, only Michigan State in the Mideast had the decency to do as told.

Instead, we have De Paul's old-man coach, Ray Meyer, bringing a center named Mark Aguirre to the Final Four when, 30 years ago, he couldn't do it with George Mikan. And we have Penn -- who? -- still alive, largely, one would think, because Carolina and Duke couldn't stand the idea of playing each other one more time.

Indiana State will meet De Paul in Saturday's semifinal round in Salt Lake City, with Michigan State going against Penn. The winners will meet Monday night for the national championship. Unless the gods of hoopdom truly have something against us, they will give us an Indiana State-Michigan State final.

Pretty please.

Memory holds nothing so fascinating as the possibilities inherent in a Magic-Bird show.

No flying, no dunking, no eaglets.

These guys pass the ball. They make passes few players ever think of. They cause the ball to move through tiny spaces that no one else can see. When they have the ball, they are liable to do something you've never seen before.

Magic lets us share his fun. We see how much he likes what he is doing. "I just lovvvve to see him dunk," Johnson said of teammate Greg Kelser, who dunked five Magic passes the other day. "I get sooooo fired up when he goes up because he hangs soooo long. He creates things in the air."

Magic was talking in a breathless way, as if he were a 6-year-old meeting Santa Claus for the first time. He has this soft, round, wide-eyed face of happy innocence.

"It makes me feel so good I want to jump up and down 20 times." he said, and his head bobbed up and down.

Larry Bird doesn't talk. He lets us watch him work. We presume he is having fun because anyone that good at something must enjoy doing it. But if Earvin Johnson never stops smiling, Larry Bird never starts. Not that it matters. The difference is not of substance, only style, and that is explained by geography.

Magic is from the big city's asphalt playgrounds; Bird is a country boy who shot baskets next to a cornfield. On the city playgrounds, a kid earns his identity with flash; anybody can throw a ball down through a hoop, but you have to be a real ball player, man, to slam-dunk after a 360-degree spin.

Next to a cornfield, with guys who grew up being taught that "showing off" is a character defect, all that matters is whether the ball went through the hoop. not how it did it.

So Earvin Johnson brings a Globetrotter flair to the game while Larry Bird brings the puritan work ethic.

All of which means exactly nothing when the ball is in flight to a destination only those two dare dream on. Then it is simply basketball, not sociology, and these two are worth the price of admission. Dan Lauck, if pressed, probably would cough up $10 for a ticket, even if it meant passing up the next hanging.