The Patrick Pageant yesterday was everything you find appalling in sport -- and more. Incompetence blessed; human dignity smashed, like a slam dunk. In all, fit fare for CBS between "Battle of the Monster Trucks" (NBC) and the U.S. Football League (ABC).

The National Basketball Association needs a draft to maintain the charade that somebody other than Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles has a chance at its championship in this century.

It needed a seven-team lottery to make sure those awful passes and shots after midseason were not intentional -- and that coaches would not start their stat crews to help assure defeat.

That teams might go to any length to grab him is the best measure of Patrick Ewing's ability. Only for the uniquely gifted are games altered.

More than one college suffered NCAA probation for illegally hustling David Thompson. More than one NCAA rule was changed after the recruitment of Moses Malone.

Dunks below the pro level got eliminated for several years because of such as the former Lew Alcindor. Three-second lanes got widened because of such as Wilt Chamberlain. The 24-second clock got turned on because of such as Bob Cousy.

Ewing, with some help from Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon, caused a lottery.

It would have been nice, as well as accurate, if Commissioner David Stern had admitted: "Sorry we have to engage in something absolutely alien to so much that is American; if we didn't, Red Auerbach would keep beating everybody's brains for another quarter-century."

In retirement, though hardly retiring, he'd probably still find a way.

That's the idea of a draft -- to help boobs survive against brains and brawn. And if Stern himself had slipped Knicks logos into each of the seven envelopes, the result could not have been better for the league.

A stronger NBA requires a strong team in New York.

Ewing makes the Knicks very good.

And Abe Pollin even more worried, for among the losers were the Bullets. They had six chances in seven that Ewing would reside in another division; instead, he makes the most competitive division in the league even more so.

The saddest team surely was the Golden State Warriors, they being exhibit A of how Auerbach has slickered so many so routinely through the years -- and how often bad teams stay unlucky.

Once upon a time in the NBA, the Celtics were awful: 29-53 in the 1978 regular season, to be exact. But Auerbach managed to persuade the Warriors to give the Celtics Robert Parish for the top pick in the 1980 draft.

The Warriors also surrendered the third choice in that draft, which Auerbach used to get Kevin McHale. Later, they traded their second-round pick to the Bullets, which became Jeff Ruland.

In 1980, the Warriors were 24-58 and 36 games behind the Lakers in their division; five years later, the Warriors had the worst record in the entire league, 22-60.

Normally, that would have given them a 50-50 chance at Ewing. But no coin flips this year, and the Warriors ended seventh -- and worst -- in the lottery.

The Indianapolis Pacers also have been terrible -- and terribly unfortunate. They lost the 1983 coin toss that enabled Houston to draft Sampson; they earned the second pick in last year's draft, but traded it to Portland; they were runners-up to the Knicks yesterday.

With that sort of track record, the Pacers might finish second in a one-team lottery. And wasn't it ironic that Dave DeBusschere, the Knicks' director of basketball operations, should mention that their lucky horseshoe came from a pacer?

The league trumpets the fact that no team since the Celtics in '69 has won back-to-back championships. But since '74, Boston or Philadelphia has gained the finals every year but two. Los Angeles figures to represent the West for the fifth time in six finals.

This is parity?

All the draft means is that bad teams have a chance to get good, not that they will be bright enough to make maximum use of it.

Utah swapped the first choice in the 1979 draft to the Lakers, who used it for Magic Johnson; Cleveland swapped the first choice in the 1982 draft to the Lakers, who chose James Worthy.

Stern yesterday called the draft "the gateway to the highest basketball competition in the world." Wonder how he would have liked being told he had the grand choice of one law firm out of college?

Ewing seemed comfortably happy with what seems a cross between the Keeneland sales for young thoroughbreds and the Miss America show.

Smiling, he told CBS he "just wanted to get it over with." He then refused to talk with reporters not helping to orchestrate the event.

On all fronts, the selling of Patrick Ewing has begun.