Updated with full interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper
If Magic Johnson was caught off-guard by the vitriol and venom in comments made about him by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, he didn’t show it.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper the night after Sterling ripped Johnson for his personal and philanthropic lives in a talk with Cooper, Johnson took the high road. In comments to TMZ Live, he was a little more forthcoming, revealing that Sterling had wanted Johnson to do a joint interview Barbara Walters.
“My whole life is devoted to urban America. So, you know I just wish he knew the facts when he’s talking. But he’s a man who’s upset and he’s reaching. He’s reaching. He’s trying to find something that he can grab on to help him save his team,” Johnson said.
“And it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. The Board of Governors now have to do their job. Adam Silver, our commissioner of the NBA, did a wonderful job of banning him for life. Now the Board of Governors have got to do their job. And again, I’m going to pray for the man because even if I see him today, I’m going to say hello to Donald and his wife as well. I’m not a guy who holds grudges and all that.”
Silver punished Sterling for racist comments that came to light April 26 by banning him from contact with the team and league, fining him $2.5 million and urging the Board of Governors and owners to force Sterling to sell the team he has owned for over 30 years. Johnson was dragged into the Sterling mess when audio revealed him asking V. Stiviano to delete Instagram photo of herself with Johnson and, since then, Johnson’s name has surfaced repeatedly as a possible owner of the the team, which also clearly rankled Sterling. Johnson admitted to Cooper that he didn’t appreciate Sterling’s comments Monday.
“Yes, am I upset? Of course,” Johnson said, “but at the same time, I’m a God-fearing man and I’m going to pray for him and hope things work out for him.”
In a the TMZ Live interview, Johnson was more direct, particularly about Sterling’s claim that Johnson has AIDS. “We’ve got to pray for the man. Look, I’m not going to sit here and let Donald Sterling disrupt my day, my year, my month. I’m a guy who is very secure with myself. When you come on [TV], you should have your facts straight, you know. I don’t have AIDS. I have HIV. I’ve been living with HIV for 22 years. That’s his opinion if he thinks I’m not a role model. That’s his own opinion, but I know the things I’ve done in urban America and for poor people.”
Johnson went on to say that Sterling had reached out to him with a bizarre idea.
“I took the call and I’m the one — he wanted me to go on Barbara Walters [for a TV interview] with him and try to save him and his reputation. I told him I would not go on the show with him. And I told him, ‘You should seek the advice of your attorney and try to make this thing go away, whether it’s making a deal with her [Stiviano] or whatever the case may be. And No. 1, you’ve got to apologize, not only to me, but to all minorities out there because you haven’t apologized yet.’ He said, ‘Oh, oh, oh, no, I’m going to get to that, I’m going to get to that.’
“I don’t have any ill feelings any more to Donald. I think we all should try to get him some help. It’s a shame and, last but not least, he should point the anger at the young lady that he’s in love with [Stiviano] that put this out. I had nothing to do with this. You put me in it, Donald, by saying those terrible things about me.”
Sterling, in an apology that went off the rails Monday, revealed an obsession with the Lakers star, who has dominated the L.A. sports scene since arriving and whose statue stands outside Staples Center. Sterling accused Johnson of calling him and offering advice when the audio first surfaced in order to position himself to buy the team. “I’m hurt that he called me up and he said don’t do anything,” Sterling told Cooper. “[He said], ‘Wait until you hear from me.’ Then someone called me later and said he doesn’t want to be involved. And then he released the tape I sent to him. That I talked to him in confidence.”
Sterling believed Johnson wanted him to wait because “I think he wanted me to do nothing so he could buy the team. He thought the whole thing would be resolved in two weeks.”
Johnson says that Sterling called him with the idea to talk to Walters, reiterating to Cooper what he had said to TMZ. Johnson said he then called Silver. At that point, Johnson told Cooper, he had his attorneys to tell Sterling to stop calling because he still hadn’t received an apology.
Cooper spoke with Johnson about the comments about Johnson’s HIV status and whether he helped disadvantaged minorities and he fired back at Sterling.
“Here’s a man who we would think would be educated and is smart enough to build this kind of wealth and own a team and have an incredible platform to change the world. But he’s doing it in a negative way,” Johnson said. “First of all, 22 years ago, I announced that I did have HIV. I came out like a man and I told the world. I didn’t blame nobody else. I understood what I did was wrong. I announced that to the world and I hope I was able to help people by doing that and I think I did.
“I’ve been to hospitals hugging people with HIV and AIDS before they were dying — people who didn’t know if they could live a long time — I hugged them, I counseled them, I talked to them about taking their meds and making sure they stayed on their [drug] regimen, which is key. I talked to a lot of young people who just got HIV and were thinking about committing suicide and I tried to talk ‘em out of that. We’ve given away over $15 million, my foundation. I joined the president’s HIV and AIDS council. I’ve done a lot of work in the HIV and AIDS community.”
Sterling, Johnson believes, wasted an opportunity to help himself out of his mess.
“It’s a shame that Donald used this platform with you,” Johnson told Cooper, “to — Instead of coming out and apologizing to the world — which would have been great — and saying to the world, ‘I’m sorry. I made some mistakes.’ and left it there. Magic Johnson shouldn’t have been included in your conversation. I have nothing to do with this, but since you [Sterling] put me in it again and then you want to try and disrespect me [over] the work that I’ve done in the minority community, that really makes me upset. And then my competitive spirit comes out because I’ve done all this great work — all the kids I’ve sent to college. I’ve got 150 kids on scholarship right now.”
Sterling’s wife, Shelly, has said that she believes her husband could be in the early stages of dementia. Cooper pointed out that he wouldn’t do an interview with someone who wasn’t lucid and Johnson responded:
“I only judge by what he says and he seems like he’s all there,” Johnson told Cooper. “In your interview, he’s a guy who’s making conversation and he remembers times, dates — he remembers when I came to his beach house and that was 35 years ago. So he can’t be slipping that much. The problem is that he’s living in the stone ages. He can’t make those comments about African-Americans or Latinos. He just can’t do it.”
Sterling told Cooper that the Clippers players still love him, to which Johnson smiled and said, “Now he is delusional. Not only the Clippers don’t love him, the other players in the NBA don’t love him. The players have rallied together. The only thing they’re waiting for is to see what’s going to happen with the [owners'] vote [to force a sale]. I’m hoping they understand that we can’t have this kind of action in our league or in our society. We just can’t have it.”
Sterling believes he will be able to wait out the storm and keep the team. Johnson says he’s very wrong.
“Can’t buy his way out of this one,” he told Cooper. “He’s bought his way out of all the other situations. Can’t do it this time.”
As for Shelly Sterling’s contention that she will fight to retain her stake, Johnson said he’d let Silver and the Board of Governors sort that out.
“All I know is that Donald Sterling is not welcome back in the NBA — he shouldn’t be welcomed by the owners; I hope they vote it right. But the players, former players and the fans — I was there the other night at the Clippers game — don’t want to see Donald Sterling as the owner anymore. What he thinks and what he feels? He’s in another world if he thinks everybody wants to see him back owning the Clippers.”
Which brings us to the possibility of Johnson, a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, buying the team with Guggenheim Partners.
“We have to wait. That’s going to be eight months-to-a-year,” Johnson told Cooper, “to see if it ever hits the market. If it comes out and it’s for sale and my Guggenheim Partners and I say, ‘Okay, we want to take a look at it, we want to buy it,’ of course we’ll make a run for it. I could be an owner tomorrow. My friends who own Golden State asked me to join them. I could have been an owner of the Golden State Warriors. My friend, Tom Gores, owns the Detroit Pistons. I could be an owner tomorrow with the Pistons. He asked me to come be a part owner. It’s not about owning team. What I really would want to do is own the Lakers. Any team I really would want to be a part of is the Lakers, not the Clippers. But if I can’t be a part of them [the Lakers] and there’s a team out there like the Clippers that I like and my partners like — because you have remember this is going to be a billion-dollar deal so you have to include Guggenheim [people] …
“This notion that I want his team — if I was going to trick somebody, deceive somebody, be dishonest to somebody, steal somebody’s franchise, it’s going to be the Los Angeles Lakers.”
Then he turned serious again.
“I’m a respectable guy. I’m a guy who worked hard to put myself in this position. I am not going to do anything bad to ruin that.”
He finished with one last correction for Sterling, as he vowed to stop talking about the Clippers owner.
“Oh, let me correct Donald. ‘What does he do? [Sterling asked Monday]‘ Oh, he owns the Dodgers, he doesn’t work for the Dodgers,” Johnson said of himself with a big laugh. “He owns the Dodgers.”
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