Sterling, 80, apologized for those comments and said he was “asking for forgiveness,” saying he had made a mistake. But when the conversation turned to Johnson, he doubled down on his criticism of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Hall of Famer, who is one of the most popular players in the history of the game. Sterling criticized Johnson, who announced that he was HIV positive over 20 years ago, saying erroneously that Johnson has AIDS. Johnson was brought into the story initially when Sterling told his girlfriend to delete photos of herself with him from her Instagram account.
“What has he done?” Sterling said of Johnson (via CNN’s transcript). “Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson, what has he done? He’s got AIDS. Did he do any business? Did he help anybody in South LA?”
Cooper corrected him on Johnson’s health status and eventually the interview, a textbook example of how not to do damage control, meandered back to Magic.
“What kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he goes and catches HIV,” he said. “Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background. And what does he do for black people? He hasn’t done anything.
“Here’s a man I don’t know if I should say this, he acts so holy. He made love with every girl in every city in America, and he had AIDS, and when he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him. I hoped he could live and be well. I didn’t criticize him. I could have. Is he an example for children? You know, because he has money, he’s able to treat himself. But Magic Johnson is irrelevant in this thing. He didn’t do anything harmful to anybody and I respect him and I admire everything that he does. I’d like to help even more if he would offer me an opportunity to help. I like to help minorities.”
“If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry. He’s a good person. I mean, what am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don’t think so. But I’ll say it, he’s great. But I don’t think he’s a good example for the children of Los Angeles.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apologized to Johnson, saying in a statement issued by the league: “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. The NBA Board of Governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr. Sterling as expeditiously as possible.”
Through the Magic Johnson Foundation, the former Laker has donated millions to children and minority entrepreneurs. “I spend millions on giving away and helping minorities,” Sterling said. “Does he do that? That’s one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African-Americans — maybe I will get in trouble again — they don’t want to help anybody.”
Johnson, who will be interviewed by Cooper on Tuesday night, tweeted a response.
The Clippers’ coach, Doc Rivers, said he stands with Magic, but has his team’s playoff series with Oklahoma City on his mind and hasn’t listened to Sterling’s comments.
“I know who Magic is,” said Rivers, who is in his first season working Sterling. “I’ll stand by Magic every day of the year because I’ve known him for a long time. Having said that, I don’t know what’s going on out there. I tried not to get involved in that part of it right now. Whatever it is, that doesn’t sound like much of an apology to me.”
Sterling’s wife, Shelly, who spoke with ABC’s Barbara Walters as the couple did dueling interviews, said she suspected that her husband was in the early stages of dementia. Shelly Sterling is a co-owner and is jockeying to retain her stake of the team, which is now being run by former Time Warner CEO and Citigroup chairman Dick Parsons.
Sterling seemed to hint that he would comply if the 29 other owners vote to force him out as an owner. “People want me to hire a wall of lawyers and [the NBA] to have to hire a wall of lawyers and go to war,” Sterling said. “I don’t think that’s the answer. I think the answer is, the league is a good league, all honest people. And I think that whatever they decide that has to be done, I think I should work with them and do it.”
Still, he seemed to be in denial that he could be forced out.
“I’m a good owner,” Sterling said. “I have a good team. There are people that want to buy my team, but because the media says that the owners want me out doesn’t mean that they want me out.”