They brought it upon themselves   

Updated: June 25, 2007, 7:26 PM ET

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I had two thoughts when the Celtics were awarded the fifth pick in the NBA draft: 1.) As a precautionary measure, I hoped the Sports Gal removes all shoestrings, belts and dental floss from the Simmons household. 2.) Atheism just took a huge recruiting hit.

The sports world can be as polluted as your average day in Los Angeles, but there are times when its purity reigns, and we can appreciate sports like we did as children.

Tommy Heinsohn

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Not even Tommy Heinsohn could overcome the bad karma of the Celtics' tanking fiasco.

What happened to the Celtics on NBA lottery night was acknowledgement that you can't commit certain sports atrocities without expecting consequences. As Harold in "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" put it best: "The universe tends to unfold as it should."

The Celtics dishonored the game with their obvious tanking and the fans dishonored fandom with their obvious acceptance and rooting for the tanking. Their penance is losing out on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, and being stuck with Doc Rivers and mastermind Danny Ainge.

I wouldn't even wish that on the Clippers.

But the Celtics and their fans were not the first to believe they could outsmart the sacred principles of sports and get away with it (see: the Chicago Black Sox and Pete Rose). Welch on the sanctity of sports and you will dwell in misery.

A few examples:

Major League Baseball

Frantic because baseball fans abandoned the game after the strike, owners, managers, the players' union and the commissioner decided to ignore -- and thus exacerbate -- the culture of performance-enhancing drugs. They rewarded the fans with the cute and fuzzy story of the great home run chase in 1998.

But how cute and fuzzy does everyone feel now that Barry Bonds is within reach of the all-time home run record?

Look at the damage baseball has done to itself by selling out to the syringes. It resulted in BALCO, an embarrassing display on Capitol Hill, and a lab rat threatening to break the game's most hallowed record.

Onetime poster boy Mark McGwire is now living on the lam like Richard Kimble. Jason Giambi's honesty attack might result in a voided contract, but considering how much he has profited from cheating, who can argue he doesn't deserve it?

And had Bonds not caved to his jealousy of Sammy Sosa and McGwire, he would have achieved the adulation he feels he is warranted. Instead, fans outside of San Francisco react to him like they do O.J. -- with disgusted curiosity.

The NHL

It's a toss-up as to which onetime major sport has slipped the furthest into irrelevancy: hockey or boxing?

Hockey made the mistake of thinking it was more important than it really was. And whenever you think that way, it's only a matter of time before you get leveled. Rule No. 2 in the Sanctity of Sports handbook.

When NHL players were locked out in 2004 -- and by the way, the average NHL salary at the time was $1.8 million -- they were unaware they were a niche sport that only was wildly popular in certain pockets of the country.

Players and management took the fans for granted. The NHL got greedy, and mistook itself for baseball, the NBA or the NFL. Now, people would rather watch pro wrestling, ultimate fighting, Proactiv informercials and "Amen" reruns instead of hockey. Who can blame NBC for switching to Preakness coverage during overtime of the Sabres-Senators playoff game?

Making matters worse, the NHL has a Stanley Cup matchup that would get any television exec fired -- Ottawa versus Anaheim.

David Stern and the casual NBA fan

There is nothing Stern won't do to win hearts of mainstream and corporate America. But each time he tweaks the league to appeal to a certain fan base, it backfires.

Mainstream America said the game was getting too rough, so Stern instituted rules that increased offense, but it alternately decreased defense and made it so heartless talents like Vince Carter have a shot at the Hall of Fame. It also guaranteed an exhausting, national diatribe every time an NBA player has an '80s flashback and actually engages in physical, playoff basketball.

Mainstream America was so disheartened by the league's thuggery, Stern adopted an inflexible, no-tolerance stance toward brawls or anything resembling them -- and it ruined the most entertaining series of this year's playoffs.

The NBA draft levied another blow to Stern's quest for unconditional mainstream love: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant -- the two best NBA prospects in years -- will be playing in Portland and Seattle. That might as well be Narnia and Krypton.

The lesson to be learned: Don't sell out to the suits and suites and expect to maintain the integrity of the league.

Dirk Nowitzki

Other than offend with his perpetual softness in clutch situations, Nowitzki has done nothing to disrespect the game. By all accounts, he's a hard worker, good teammate and coachable.

But he committed a pop culture atrocity when he publicly admitted he sings David Hasselhoff's "Looking For Freedom" to relax at the free-throw line. No wonder Hasselhoff fell off the wagon, swiping aimlessly at a cheeseburger on the way down.

Note to Nowitzki: Switch to Warren G's "Regulate," and maybe you won't have the heart of Sanjaya in the playoffs.

(As an aside, I'm thinking Steve Nash's two MVPs, zero titles and Finals appearances is somehow related to his former relationship with Liz Hurley. Just a theory)

Sports has a way of eventually getting things right. From Tony Dungy's redemption to the Boston Celtics' descension.

Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.


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