The news executive at Sports Illustrated who arranged for publication of former National Football League defensive lineman Don Reese's story on cocaine use in the NFL said yesterday it never occurred to him that Reese would be prosecuted as a result of the story.

"Everybody here is sort of stunned and appalled that people would think that way," said Mark Mulvoy, an assistant managing editor at the magazine. "We never anticipated that reaction on the part of the authorities."

Mulvoy said Reese, who spent a month at a health care center in California in May and early June, "is completely rehabilitated in terms of his drug problem" and has "embraced Christianity . . . to incarcerate him now, I think would be stupid."

Reese is facing violation of probation charges in Florida as a result of the June 14 Sports Illustrated article in which he described his use of cocaine while an active player with the Miami Dolphins, the New Orleans Saints and the San Diego Chargers. He was sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation for selling cocaine to an undercover agent in 1977. He faces a maximim of 30 years in jail if found to have violated terms of his probation.

Mulvoy said Reese initially contacted the magazine about the story early in March. "I asked him what he wanted, and he said he wanted help. Money was never discussed at that point," Mulvoy said.

Eventually, Mulvoy said, the magazine brought Reese to New York where he spent about 10 days at a country location, walking in the woods, going fishing and collecting his thoughts.

"We spent several days finding the right place to put him," Mulvoy said. On May 11, Reese checked into the Health Care Unit, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Orange County, Calif., the same facility where Betty Ford, former first lady, sought help for alcohol problems.

According to Mulvoy, Sports Illustrated was willing either to pay for Reese's rehabilitation or a standard fee for his article. When Reese found he had insurance to cover his rehabilitation costs, the magazine agreed to a $10,000 fee for the article, prorated over a six-month period. Alabama Football Coach Bear Bryant received a slightly larger fee several years ago for an article of almost the same length, Mulvoy said.

Everything in Reese's article, which described widespread use of cocaine by NFL players, was independently verified by Sports Illustrated, Mulvoy said.