Not to cast aspersions, because heaven knows we need save our aspersions in case George Steinbrenner comes within range, but did you read the public reports of what Jerry Buss said to Donald Sterling? The papers said Buss offered Sterling $6 million for the draft rights to Ralph Sampson. Further, the papers said Sterling turned down the loot.

The next sound you hear will be me laughing out loud.

Ha-ha, ho-ho, ho-ha, hahahahaha.

Please forgive me, for in these days of media angst I am trying my darndest to see human decency where once my special-made cynic's eyeglasses would have revealed laughable tomfoolery.

For instance, I am dead-solid convinced that Abe Pollin is right in ignoring Moses Malone (more on this later). But the Buss-Sterling stuff, alas, I just can't help it. It is laughable every which way you read it.

Buss and Sterling are characters in clanky gold necklaces who own the Los Angeles Lakers and San Diego Clippers, the penthouse and outhouse of the NBA. At Sterling's first game as the Clipper skipper, he ate filet mignon and drank champagne at courtside. Near game's end, he dashed crosscourt and leaped into the arms of his coach.

"Sterling," wrote sports editor Barry Lorge of the San Diego Union, "never met a mirror he didn't like."

Buss three years ago paid $67.5 million to Jack Kent Cooke for the Lakers, Kings, Forum and a 13,000-acre ranch. If you asked Central Casting for a playboy type fighting middle age, they'd send over the Jerry Buss model. Buss, to give you an idea, is paying Magic Johnson $1 million a year for 25 years.

You should know, too, that an NBA franchise, if you were unlucky enough to buy one, would cost probably $15 million.

Q. Do you know how to make a small fortune?

A. Start with a large fortune and buy an NBA team.

Anyway, Buss and Sterling told the papers about a $6 million offer that Buss said he made so he could draft Sampson first.

Don't misunderstand. This is not $6 million to hire Sampson; this is only to draft him, after which Buss would then have the privilege of paying Ralph another umpteen million dollars to play ball for a few years.

Let's assume, out of human decency, that Buss truly made such an offer. The franchise may be worth $15 million. Yet the owner offers $6 million just for the chance to pay a kid another umpteen million. Is this, I ask you, laughable?

And Donald Sterling, who had trouble meeting the payroll this season, then turns down the gift of $6 million. Turns it down even though, after Sampson is gone, he could still draft James Worthy, who ain't no slouch. Is this, I ask, laughable?

This is, dear friends, looney-tune time in Hollywood.

I prefer to believe that these gentlemen were having their little joke. Perhaps they had a good ol' time at a party, after which, as their gold chains clanked in the evening breeze, one said to the other, "Got any new rumors on Sampson?"

It then would be easy to conjure stories flattering to both men ("Making one last try, Jerry Buss today offered $6 million for the rights to draft . . . " and "Donald Sterling today demonstrated the depth of his commitment to San Diego by turning down $6 million . . . ").

Whatever happened, it demonstrated again the self-destructive madness of the NBA. With all the NFL's money, its best rumor was that Jack Kent Cooke offered $2.5 million for the No. 1 pick. This was not true, but it gives you a comparison of fantasies.

Against this madness we find Abe Pollin, whose hockey team, the Capitals, is making his fortune smaller every day and who has declared his basketball team, the Bullets, out of any bidding for Moses Malone by saying, "I don't think any player is worth that much money. If I had $50 million, I wouldn't pay anybody $2 million."

Malone reportedly wants $2.5 million a year. The guy can play ball.

He ought to be the league's MVP again. He can score 30 and and get 20 rebounds a night, which is the work of two or three men.

But do you know how much 2.5 million is?

It's 712 miles worth of Malone's sneakers set heel to toe.

While Pollin might not have figured that out (at 18 inches a sneaker), he knows what the Bullets would need do to pay a $2.5 million salary.

At $8 per ticket, the Bullets would need sell 7,622 tickets per night for 41 home games to cover Malone's salary. This past season, the Bullets averaged 9,019 people a game.

So Malone, a particularly uncharismatic player, would need to raise attendance 84 percent to justify his pay. It could be argued that his presence would make the Bullets a championship contender, with all the bucks involved in playoffs and such.

Maybe. The record this season doesn't suggest so. With Malone, the Houston Rockets won 46 regular-season games and lost in the first round of the playoffs; the Bullets won 43 games, won the first round of the playoffs and then lost to defending champion Boston.

For the year, Houston with Malone won 47 games. The Bullets, without Malone, won 46 games.

Is one more victory worth $2.5 million?