For two weeks, Donald Sterling’s voice has been everywhere. Since April 25, when TMZ released a recording of Sterling making racist, disparaging comments about Magic Johnson, the clip has aired on radio, on television and on YouTube, ultimately culminating in the NBA banning him for life.
Now Sterling has spoken again. Hair swept back and wearing a black suit with an open-collar shirt, he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview to be aired Monday that he was “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.”
But the 80-year-old did more than apologize. He also blamed V. Stiviano, his 31-year-old girlfriend, for baiting him. In the recording, Sterling lambasted Stiviano for posting online photos showing her with Johnson and other African Americans. “When I listen to that tape, I don’t even know how I can say words like that,” he told Cooper. “I don’t know why the girl had me say those things.”
“You’re saying you were set up?” Cooper responded.
“Well yes, I was baited,” said the Los Angeles Clippers owner, who’s been fined $2.5 million and may be forced to sell the team. “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.”
The interview caps a drama that has overshadowed the NBA playoffs. As celebrities and politicians condemn Sterling, his remarks and his punishment have divided the nation along political and generational lines. Polls showed that 68 percent of Democrats agreed that Sterling should be forced to sell his team, while only 26 percent of Republicans did.
But few disagreed the comments were wildly inappropriate.
“In your lousy f—ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with — walking with black people,” Sterling told Stiviano in the recording. “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people … Bring him here, feed him, f–k him, but don’t put [Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”
The real-estate mogul told Anderson this sort of comment was a one-time thing. “I’m a good member who made a mistake and I’m apologizing and I’m asking for forgiveness,” he told CNN. “Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years? 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.”
But courtroom allegations cast doubt on Sterling’s claim his comments were an aberration. In 2003, a housing advocate sued Sterling, alleging he didn’t like to rent to “Hispanics” because they “smoke, drink and just hang around the building.” He allegedly added: “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.” (The case resulted in a confidential settlement, but reports estimated Sterling paid close to $5 million in attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs.)
In 2009, Sterling agreed to a $2.8-million settlement in another case that alleged he discriminated against African Americans and Latino at buildings he owned. Court documents charged he had told employees that African Americans and Latinos weren’t desirable tenants. Sterling denied the allegations.
More court battles may be ahead for Sterling. In a Sunday interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters, Shelly Sterling, who has also been accused of racism, said “eventually, I am going to divorce” her husband.
“For the last 20 years, I’ve been seeing attorneys for a divorce,” she told Walters. “I signed the petition for a divorce. And it came to almost being filed. And then, my financial adviser and my attorney said to me, ‘Not now.’”
She said she will fight to retain her portion of the Clippers, and distanced herself from her husband’s recorded statements. “I don’t know why I should be punished for what his actions were,” she said. “I was shocked by what he said.”
Meanwhile, another leaked recording emerged over the weekend allegedly of a conversation involving Sterling. The recording, obtained by RadarOnline, has Sterling allegedly discussing the controversy with a “long-time friend.” He said that jealously over Stiviano had driven his racism.
“The girl is black,” Sterling allegedly said. “I like her. I’m jealous that she’s with other black guys. I want her. So what the hell. Can’t I in private tell her, ‘I don’t want you to be with anybody?’”
He added: “So they should take away for life your team [if] you say the wrong thing to a girl? … I know what I said was wrong. But I never thought the private conversation would go anywhere, out to the public.”