Donald Sterling insists he’s no racist, still slams Magic Johnson
(CNN) — Donald Sterling blamed Magic Johnson for his delayed apology to the controversy that has him fighting to keep his NBA team, and criticized the legendary NBA player’s character, his battle with HIV and his role in the scandal during a wide-ranging interview with CNN.
Sterling — in his first televised interview since audio recordings surfaced last month of the longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner making racist remarks — told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he waited so long to apologize for the comments because Johnson called him and told him to remain silent.
“He just said ‘Wait, be patient, I’ll help you, we’ll work it out,'” Sterling said in the lengthy interview, which was recorded Sunday and aired Monday night.
Sterling was heard on the audio recordings chastising friend V. Stiviano for posting pictures online of her posing with African-Americans, including Johnson.
While saying he admires Johnson and that his role in the scandal is “irrelevant,” Sterling questioned Johnson’s character in the CNN interview.
“Well, what kind of a guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV? Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about?” Sterling asked. “I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background. But what does he do for the black people? He doesn’t do anything.”
Johnson is the founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation, which gets a top rating from Charity Navigator, a nonprofit corporation that evaluates charities.
The Magic Johnson foundation provides funds for HIV/AIDs awareness, testing and treatment as well as scholarships and mentoring for minority students. It also provides other support to ethnically diverse urban communities and has spent several million dollars on those programs.
As chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Johnson has invested extensively, with the company describing its mission on its website as being “a catalyst for and fostering community/economic empowerment” in “ethnically diverse urban communities.”
Johnson said after the controversy first unfolded that Sterling should sell the team. He hasn’t indicated whether he would pursue a Clippers ownership position.
Until the CNN interview, Sterling had been quiet since celebrity gossip website TMZ posted a 10-minute audio recording of him that drew widespread condemnation from fans, players and the league, and led to a lifetime ban from the National Basketball Association and a $2.5 million fine.
Sterling several times told CNN he is not racist.
“I’m not a racist, I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I’m here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people that I’ve hurt,” he said.
The timing of Sterling’s apology drew criticism from the Clippers’ interim CEO on Monday.
“I would observe, as most Americans I think would observe, that he’s a little late, for sure,” said Dick Parsons, a former chairman of Citigroup and Time Warner who was tapped by the NBA to be the team’s interim CEO last week. “But beyond that, I’m here to help turn one of the burners off under the pot, not to turn it up higher. So I think I’ll keep my personal views personal and just stay focused on what are we going to keep this team on the ascend, as it is right now.”
Trashing Magic Johnson
Sterling had choice words for Johnson, telling Cooper he thinks Johnson wanted him to not respond to the media firestorm that erupted after the recordings surfaced so Johnson, who is a part of the ownership groups of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the WNBA team Los Angeles Sparks, could buy the Clippers.
“He thought the whole thing will be resolved in two weeks,” Sterling said. “What has he done? Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson, what has he done?”
Sterling said Jewish people spend great amounts of money helping other Jews who are poor while rich black people turn their backs to people in need.
“That’s one problem I have. Jews when they get successful they will help their people and some of the African-Americans — maybe I’ll get in trouble again — they don’t want to help anybody,” he said.
Those comments sparked criticism from players who spoke with CNN’s Rachel Nichols on Monday.
“The biggest shock waves from players that I talked to today, they said, ‘Wait a minute, he insulted Magic Johnson again? He did that again?’ They can’t believe that,” Nichols said. “As far as they are concerned, that is a final straw.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also slammed the comments Sterling made about Johnson.
“I just read a transcript of Donald Sterling’s interview with Anderson Cooper and while Magic Johnson doesn’t need me to, I feel compelled on behalf of the NBA family to apologize to him that he continues to be dragged into this situation and be degraded by such a malicious and personal attack,” Silver said in a statement. “The NBA Board of Governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr. Sterling as expeditiously as possible.”
Awaiting the NBA’s next move
Sterling, a lawyer and billionaire real estate investor, wouldn’t tell CNN if he will sue the NBA if his fellow owners vote to force him to sell the team.
Even though NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said he wants the other teams to vote the Clippers owner out, Sterling said he doesn’t think the other 29 owners would do it.
The league’s finance committee is to meet this week to take another step toward the forced sale. The lawyer for Sterling’s estranged wife said recently that she wants to keep her half of the team, but the NBA released a statement saying all owners would lose their interests in the team.
Donald Sterling told CNN’s Cooper that since he hasn’t been ordered to sell, it wasn’t worth discussing.
“We aren’t there yet so why should I address that issue? I don’t want to fight with my partners,” he said. “We all do what we have to do. I love them and I respect them. Whatever their decision is with regard to my terrible words, then I have to do it, I think.”
Sterling’s relationship with Stiviano
Sterling blamed Stiviano for “baiting” him into saying the racist remarks on the recordings — comments he said he had no idea were being recorded. But he said he is not sure why she did it, because she didn’t blackmail him. In fact, he believes she is a “good person.”
When asked if he had an intimate relationship with Stiviano, 31 and nearly 50 years younger than Sterling, he declined to answer.
“I don’t think a gentleman should discuss any of the personal items that go on with a woman,” he said.
Stiviano told ABC that she was a friend and confidant to Sterling but they didn’t have a sexual relationship.
Shelly Sterling believes they did and is suing Stiviano to get back more than $2 million in gifts her husband gave his friend.
Donald Sterling said that just before the remarks that appalled much of America, Stiviano made him jealous by saying she was going to bring four handsome black football players to a Clippers game with her.
“I was a little jealous,” he said, adding that he was referring to the players when he said don’t bring them to the game.
Sterling thinks his players, whom he cannot contact anymore because he is banned from team functions and operations, still love him.
“Absolutely! They know I’m not a racist — and I’m not a racist,” he said.
The fans and sponsors also still love him, he claimed.
It’s the media that hates him, he said.
He said people from all over the world call him to give him support even though they don’t believe he should have said what he did on the recordings.
By Steve Almasy
CNN’s Jason Hanna and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.