Bulls center Joakim Noah had to be punished.
Not because of political correctness, which many believe is running amok in society.
Noah was fined because he was wrong on many levels when he angrily lashed back at a fan Sunday night.
It was wrong to respond to a heckler in the first place. It was wrong to use profanity. It was especially wrong to blurt an anti-gay slur.
Just think how hurtful Noah's behavior was to his gay teammates. Oh, he doesn't have any on the Bulls? How do you know?
Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts surprised many down there by revealing recently that he is gay.
Sports figures suddenly are expressing opinions on various issues of sexuality.
Charles Barkley essentially said he would rather win with a gay teammate than lose with a straight teammate. New York Rangers winger Sean Avery declared on the side of legalizing same-gender marriages.
It is within this context that the Noah incident occurred during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in Miami.
Monday the NBA fined Noah $50,000 "for using a derogatory and offensive term from the bench." Why the amount was half what Kobe Bryant was assessed for hurling the same word at a referee wasn't explained.
If anything, Noah's offense was worse because it came after the Bryant incident, when NBA Commissioner David Stern laid down a no-tolerance policy for intolerance. The league has gone as far as to initiate a media campaign against gay slurs.
A precinct that hasn't been heard from so far concerning Noah is Jerry Reinsdorf, a champion of equal opportunity in sports.
Reinsdorf's general manager with the Sox, Kenny Williams, is black. The team's field manager, Ozzie Guillen, is Hispanic.
So it would be in character for Reinsdorf to issue a statement condemning the anti-gay word Noah blurted.
Reinsdorf could even announce that the Bulls will hold Noah out of one game, though not during the current playoffs.
Making Noah miss a game now wouldn't be fair to his teammates. However, how about making him sit out next season's opener, with or without pay, if only as a symbolic gesture?
Noah might not even be opposed to further discipline considering how contrite he has been since Sunday's incident.
"I just want to apologize," Noah reiterated Monday. "People who know me know I'm an open-minded guy. I'm not here to hurt anybody's feelings."
There is no reason to doubt Noah's sincerity. He has indicated no pattern of prejudice against any group during his four years with the Bulls.
"I think what Jo said is just something out of frustration," teammate Luol Deng said of the slur. "He's got to do a better job of controlling his emotions."
Frustration is no excuse for saying what Noah said. Nor is being one of the NBA's most emotional explosive devices. Nor is the disrespect from a fan. Nor is being one of the Bulls' most likable players.
So the league had to let the world know that it won't harbor the behavior Noah demonstrated. Now it wouldn't be bad for the Bulls at the ownership level to make it clear in so many words that it loves Noah but hates what he said.
Then hopefully everybody can move on, all the better for a lesson learned.