Maybe the old sportscaster would appreciate it. He calls sports a kind of clean hatred, and maybe he would think it is clean and wholesome for the game to go on. Maybe he thinks sports is a celebration of life. So like millions of other sports fans, he would want the NCAA to go on with its big basketball game.

Let's hope not.

Let's hope that someone somewhere believes something is more important than a damned bouncing ball.

On the day the president is shot within walking distance of the White House, give me no game. At Munich, even as they counted the bodies, Avery Brundage said, "The Games must go on." Two days after Kennedy, the pro football people played their holy games.


We are wearing green ribbons for the kids in Atlanta, and we hurt yet for Lennon, and we are so desperate for heroes that we throw confetti on hostages who are victims of our incompetence, nothing, else."

"Someone shot at Reagan," a man said at 3 o'clock this afternoon.

Before Kennedy, before Bobby, before Martin Luther King, before Squeaky Fromme and Arthur Bremer, those words -- someone shot at our president -- would have been the stuff of profane fantasy, the stuff we see in grainy film clips from countries we call salvage.

"Hit him?" I asked, having practiced the question in '63 and '68 and '75.

"In the chest."


"He's in surgery."

Almost five hours later, even as the president was in the recovery room and doctors on TV were talking about a mangled bullet and a peritoneal lavage, the NCAA big-wigs decided they should go on with the national championship game. They told the gathered fans that the decision was made because President Reagan's condition was stable.

Obviously, the NCAA has set a real cute precedent. If you've got a big game and the president is shot that afternoon, go ahead and play as long as he doesn't die. Some things are too important to put off a day or two while a nation looks for its soul. Some things are too important to forget about while we wonder if that TV film really came from downtown Washington and not a desert sheikdom.

Basketbsall is that important, the NCAA is telling us.

It makes me want to cry.

Listen to Dale Brown, the LSU coach whose team played for third place here even as doctors searched the president's chest cavity for a bullet. He said he was "deflated" when he heard the news in his hotel. "It was difficult to even leave the room," he said.

Lombardi, the patron saint of excess, would have loved Dale Brown's recovery from the afternoon's deflation.

"I would play the games," Brown said, "because I don't see any impact it would make not playing. Maybe symbolic. But life goes on. I don't think our not doing anything will solve any problems in America."

Brown's team trailed Virginia by eight points at halftime, came back some in the second half and lost, 78-74.

"It wasn't any fun at the start," Brown Allowed. "But in the excitement of the rally, it almost slips your mind."

The president is being given 2 1/2 quarts of blood and it slips a basketball coach's mind.

Well, let's try the kids. How did they feel going into tonight's games?

"Mentally, it was a little tough -- coming off the loss to North Carolina the other day," said Jeff Lamp, a Virginia Senior.

Yes, sir, losing a basketball game really hurts.

At 6:45, with tipoff scheduled 90 minutes later, Indiana's coach, Bob Knight, said he had no opinion on the goings-on. Here is a man whose idol, Harry Truman, was the target of bullets. "The Buck Stops Here" says a sign on Knight's desk. But here tonight, Knight bucked the question aside.

"My only thought on the situation that occurred today is that the NCAA will do what's best under the circumstances," he said.

As coach of the United States Pan-American Games basketball team two summers ago, Knight carried the Stars and Stripes proudly, aggressively, even infuriatingly. The Puerto Rican hosts, he said, were anti-American and he wouldn't put up with it.

And the whole time there, as the U.S. played for the Pan-Am championship, Knight had one worry. He worried that someone would shoot him. He didn't want his wife in the arena. Some nut with a rifle, he said.

But tonight, when some nut with a pistol had shot down his president, Knight bucked the question of priorities to gutless officials who counted the house, added up the TV money, heard a doctor say Reagan most likely would recover in two months or so -- and said let's play ball.

Someone asked Al McGuire what he thought. The old coach said he didn't want to work as the color man on the TV show tonight. But a job's a job, and so he would be there at his microphone.

"What does the court jester do when he finds his court full of fools?" McGuire said. "He goes on."

Why, why, why? Isn't there a time for fools to take off the greasepaint and be part of the real world?

"It's a shock for the nation," said Dean Smith, the North Carolina coach, standing in a hallway 30 minutes before tipoff. "But. . ."

Here comes the obscene rationlization.

". . . if President Reagan isn't dying. . ."

As John Chancellor wrapped it up about 8:14, he said to stay tuned to NBC-TV for the basketball game. "We'll be back with a special after that," Chancellor said.

First things first.