Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner who has been banned by the NBA and is being urged to sell his team, made the first of what is likely to be a string of apologizes, taking responsibility for racist comments that became public three weeks ago.
“I’m a good member who made a mistake and I’m apologizing and I’m asking for forgiveness,” he said in an interview with Anderson Cooper that will appear tonight on CNN. “Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years [as an owner]? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It’s a terrible mistake, and I’ll never do it again.
“I’m not a racist. I made a terrible mistake. I’m here to apologize.”
The comments are the first by Sterling, the longest tenured owner in the league. He also was fined $2.5 million and, under punishment from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, other owners will be urged to force him to sell. Sterling, 80, told Cooper he was “distraught” and could not speak until now.
“The reason it’s hard for me, very hard for me, is that I’m wrong,” he said. “I caused the problem. I don’t know how to correct it. If the owners feel I have another chance, then they’ll give it to me.”
Sterling claims that he was set up by V. Stiviano in a recording in which he tells her not to bring blacks to games and asks her to delete an Instagram photo of her with Magic Johnson. “Well, yes, I was baited,” Sterling said. “I mean, that’s not the way I talk. I don’t talk about people for one thing, ever. I talk about ideas and other things. I don’t talk about people.”
Sterling’s wife, who is a co-owner, told Barbara Walters over the weekend that she would fight to retain her stake of ownership of the team. Shelly Sterling told Walters that fans, sponsors and others “high five” her and “know I’m a good person” when she has attended Clippers’ playoff games. She would, she said, be willing to take a silent role with another owner if her husband is out. She also said she would divorce her husband at some point and has not done so, despite wanting to for 20 years, because her financial advisor and attorney advised her that the timing was not right.
Saying “I’m a strong person,” Shelly Sterling said of the NBA’s efforts to force a sale: “I will fight that decision. 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? I don’t know why I should be punished for what his actions were.”
The NBA countered that if one Sterling is out, both are. “Under the NBA constitution, if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a three-fourths vote [of the other owners], all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement (via ESPN). “It doesn’t matter whether the owners are related as is the case here. These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team.”
Shelly Sterling’s lawyer told ESPN that he does not agree with the NBA’s interpretation of the constitution.