IT'S AN ODD THOUGHT, true, but Larry H. Miller must be feeling equal doses of empathy and sympathy for Vernon "Mad Max" Maxwell this week.

Normally you wouldn't lump the owner of the Utah Jazz and the shooting guard of the Houston Rockets together. Normally you'd put one on one side of the Midwest Conference fence and one on the other. Their personalities are as dissimilar as David Robinson's and Dennis Rodman's. They both appreciate a fine automobile and that's about the end of what they have in common.Well, that and landing in the NBA doghouse for wanting to coldcock some fan.

Where Miller went in last year's playoffs - into suspension exile after attacking a Denver fan in the Delta Center - Maxwell went this week after attacking a fan in Portland's Memorial Coliseum.

Like Miller, Maxwell is being roundly castigated for his actions, and rightly so, since there is no place for anarchy in the sports world other than on the ice in professional hockey.

You can't have the gladiators going after the paying customers. People in pro sports need to keep their composure at all times. That's unequivocal.

But as Miller and Maxwell would no doubt agree, it would be refreshing if once, just once, those fans who provoke these "composure breakdowns" would stand up and accept their share of the responsibility.

They could admit they started it.

The hard cold facts are, some fans use the occasion of a sporting event to revert to behavior that, if used anywhere else - in the privacy of their own homes, for example - they'd be slapped with a different kind of suspension, if not handcuffs.

But because they're in a sports arena, they act as if they're driving around Manhattan with diplomatic plates.

Steve George, the fan struck by Maxwell in Portland, expressed the same kind of choir boy shock expressed last spring by Richard Babich, the Denver fan attacked by Miller.

"I was definitely riding Vernon, you know, `Five points, four fouls, you're not having a good night,' " said George. "But I didn't deserve to get hit in the face for that."

Of course not. But you can bet your $4.75 box of NBA nachos that that's the edited version. If Vernon went after George merely for saying, "Five points, four fouls, you're not having a good night," then Max is more than mad.

It was the same last spring when Babich said Miller came after him because he and his friends were shouting "Go get 'em Dikembe!" at Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo. When Miller asked them to leave their courtside positions, they said they did not argue.

I interviewed those same Denver fans two days later in Denver, and they were arguing over who got to go on Nightline.

Fans don't have up close and personal experiences with the pros without provocation.

It takes two to file a lawsuit.

Hecklers ought to be man, or woman, enough to admit what they heckled.

Sometimes you find yourself wishing they'd just let them thrash it out. Anyone who's had to sit through an entire game next to an abusive fan knows this feeling. You don't want to see anyone get physically hurt, but still . . .

As a for instance, there was the Los Angeles Raiders game I went to this past season at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Next to the set of Geraldo, Raiders football is the place on earth where the inmates come closest to running the asylum. Early in the second half Raiders quarterback Jeff Hostetler overthrew a receiver and the next thing you knew this shirtless fan had broken free from his seat. He was either taking a shortcut to the concession stand or he was en route to sack Hostetler. The second possibility seemed the likeliest since Raiders fans have advanced heckling to the point that they go after their own . . . and the man was already at the 30.

Three alert security officers saw that they had the angle on the fan and tackled him at about midfield while Hostetler stood in the Raiders huddle with his back to the play about 15 yards away.

The law prevailed and the fan was hauled off, but who could help but fantasize about what might have happened if this man had been just a little faster and had actually made it to the Raider huddle . . . where the case could have been settled then and there with some high plains justice.

Every season the evidences of rude fan behavior only mount. In just the last couple of weeks there's been a lot more than the Mad Max incident. In England, a soccer player leaped a barrier and attacked a heckling fan. In Atlanta, Don Jackson, the coach of the Cincinnati Cyclone of the International Hockey League, leaped a barrier and attacked "Sir Slapshot," Atlanta's obnoxious mascot. In Los Angeles, Cal-Berkeley coach Todd Bozeman went after a Cal-Northridge security guard after the guard said "You coach your team and I'll take care of security" (edited version). And in both France and Italy, all professional soccer games have been suspended for a week after an Italian fan was stabbed to death and a French fan was shot to death, both by fellow fans.

Both countries are calling for "deep reflection" by the fans.

It shouldn't take murder to curb fan impertinence. It shouldn't take a right cross, either. Deep reflection is a good idea. Deep reflection that the price of admission does not carry with it the right to be abusive, personally insulting, or obscene. A person hears that long enough, he's going to think you really mean it.