Donald Sterling breaks silence, says he was “baited” and is not a racist
(CNN) — Why did Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling take so long to say he’s sorry for the racist remarks that got him banned from the NBA?
Magic Johnson, he claims, told him to stay quiet.
“Wait, be patient, I’ll help you, we’ll work it out,” Sterling said the NBA legend told him.
In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Sterling spoke publicly for the first time since a controversial audio recording of him sparked a firestorm and put his ownership of the Clippers in jeopardy.
He repeatedly apologized and denied accusations that he’s racist, claiming he’d been “baited” into making what he called “terrible” remarks. But while he defended himself for much of the interview, he went on the offensive when Johnson’s name came up.
Sterling, 80, slammed the former Los Angeles Lakers player’s character and his battle with HIV, saying Johnson hasn’t done anything to help others.
“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 has been a central figure in the controversy since the recording of Sterling speaking with friend V. Stiviano surfaced last month on TMZ.
In the recording, which drew widespread condemnation from fans, players and the league, Sterling chastises Stiviano for posting pictures online of her posing with African-Americans, including Johnson. He tells her not to bring Johnson to Clippers games.
“Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don’t put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me,” he said.
As criticism over the recording spread, Johnson was among the first to say that Sterling should be forced to sell the team.
Now, as Sterling faces a lifetime ban from the National Basketball Association, a $2.5 million fine for the remarks and the possibility that fellow NBA owners could force him to sell the team he’s owned for more than 30 years, he claims Johnson is angling for control of the Clippers.
Sterling said that he waited so long to apologize about the recording because Johnson, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships, called him and told him to remain silent.
“I know the girl, don’t do anything. I’ll help you,” Sterling says Johnson told him.
“I think he wanted me to just do nothing so he could buy the team,” Sterling said.
Johnson hasn’t indicated whether he would pursue a Clippers ownership position.
Sterling: Some African-Americans ‘don’t want to help anybody’
In comments that drew immediate backlash across social media, Sterling said Johnson hasn’t done anything.
“What has he done? Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson, what has he done?” Sterling said.
Sterling, who is Jewish, 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.
Cooper asked, “So are you saying that African-Americans don’t contribute to African-American communities as much as Jewish people –”
Sterling — measured for much of the interview — cut Cooper off and snapped back.
“There’s no African-American –,” he said, raising his voice. “Never mind, I don’t know, I’m sorry. You know, they all want to play golf with me. Everybody wants to be with me. I’m easy. I’m fun.”
In a series of Twitter posts after the interview aired, Johnson fired back, but he didn’t respond to the specific allegations.
“I’d rather be talking about these great NBA Playoffs than Donald Sterling’s interview,” he said.
“After this week, no more Sterling talk. Just the NBA Playoffs,” he said in another post.
Johnson’s 1991 revelation that he was HIV-positive shocked the sports world. The athlete has drawn accolades for his openness about the illness and his push to help fight it. He’s the founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation, which has raised millions for HIV/AIDS awareness.
It also provides funds for testing and treatment as well as scholarships and mentoring for minority students.
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.”
NBA Commissioner: Sterling’s comments on Johnson ‘malicious’
Even as Sterling repeatedly said he is sorry, many appeared unconvinced after the interview, pointing particularly to his comments about Johnson.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he’d read a transcript of the interview.
“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.”
In a conference call, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of Sterling’s comments, “That doesn’t sound like much of an apology to me.”
“This attack on Magic is crazy,” filmmaker Spike Lee told Cooper after the interview. “He’s messing with the wrong brother. Magic is loved by everybody around the world. And the talk about some other stuff that has nothing to do with nothing is ridiculous.”
And Sterling’s comments about Johnson surprised several NBA 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.”
The timing of Sterling’s apology drew criticism from the Clippers’ interim CEO.
“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.”
Still, Sterling said he thinks his players, whom he cannot contact anymore because he is banned from team functions and operations, love him.
“Absolutely! They know I’m not a racist — and I’m not a racist,” he said.
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.
Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, believes they did and is suing Stiviano to get back more than $2 million in gifts her husband gave his friend.
Donald Sterling said Stiviano made him jealous by saying she was going to bring four handsome black football players to a Clippers game with her, prompting the now-infamous racist rant.
“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.”
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 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.
If the case proceeds to a full vote, 75% of the owners would have to approve it.
However, an attorney for Shelly Sterling told CNN Friday that she wants to keep her 50% stake in the team.
“She wants to remain a passive owner,” said attorney Pierce O’Donnell. “She’s not going to want to manage the team. She’s going to want a very skilled, professional, well-heeled new owner to come in and replace Donald,” O’Donnell said. “She only wants to own the team in her lifetime. She’s 79 years old. At this point, she’s earned it. She’s been an owner for 33 years, and she’s an avid fan.”
In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Shelly Sterling said she was prepared to fight any attempt by the NBA to take away her stake in the team.
“I will fight that decision,” she told ABC’s Barbara Walters. “To be honest with you, I’m wondering if a wife of one of the owners, and there’s 30 owners, did something like that, said those racial slurs, would they oust the husband? Or would they leave the husband in?”
NBA spokesman Mark Bass said in a statement after the ABC interview aired that what happens if the owners vote for a forced sale is already spelled out in the NBA Constitution.
“Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a 3/4 vote, all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well. It doesn’t matter whether the owners are related as is the case here,” he said. “These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their 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.”
By Catherine E. Shoichet and Steve Almasy. CNN’s Jason Hanna and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.