Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling says he’s sorry but feels he was “baited” to make racist comments, nearly two weeks after the NBA fined him and banned him for life for his remarks in a recorded conversation.
“When I listen to that tape, I don’t even know how I can say words like that. … I don’t know why the girl had me say those things,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview set to air on Monday.
“You’re saying you were set up?” Cooper asked.
“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, an 80-year-old married lawyer and billionaire real-estate investor, hasn’t spoken publicly about the accusations since celebrity gossip website TMZ posted a 10-minute audio recording of him that drew widespread condemnation from fans, players and the league.
In that audio clip, Sterling chastised friend V. Stiviano for posting pictures online of her posing with African-Americans, including basketball Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
The recording triggered a firestorm that led to Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA and a $2.5 million fine. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has asked the other 29 owners to force Sterling, the longest-tenured owner in the league, to sell the Clippers.
“I’m not a racist,” Sterling told Cooper. “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.”
Asked by Cooper why he took so long to say he’s sorry, Sterling said he was “emotionally distraught.”
“The reason it’s hard for me, very hard for me, is that I’m wrong. I caused the problem. I don’t know how to correct it,” he said.
The timing of Sterling’s apology drew criticism from the Clippers’ interim CEO on Monday.
“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 and just stay focused on what are we going to keep this team on the ascend, as it is right now.”
Even as he apologized repeatedly during the interview with CNN, Sterling still had harsh words for Johnson, saying he didn’t think the NBA legend is “a good example for the children of Los Angeles.”
Those comments sparked criticism from 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.”
Sterling said he doesn’t want his comments to eclipse his lengthy tenure with the NBA.
“I’m a good member who made a mistake and I’m apologizing and I’m asking for forgiveness,” he said. “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.”
“If the owners feel I have another chance, then they’ll give it to me,” he said.
‘I thought she liked me’
Last week, another audio recording surfaced online, allegedly showing Sterling trying to add context to the racist comments that got him banned from the league.
In that recording, Sterling purportedly explained that his comments were driven by jealousy.
“The girl is black. I like her. I’m jealous that she’s with other black guys. I want her. So what the hell, can I in private tell her, you know, ‘I don’t want you to be with anybody’?” the man purported to be Sterling said in that recording, according to RadarOnline.
On Sunday, Sterling told CNN that in the recording “I spoke to a girl that I was fond of.”
Stiviano told ABC News earlier this month that the recorded conversation was similar to many she’s had with Sterling about race.
“There’s been a number of occasions where Mr. Sterling and I had conversations just like this one,” she said. “Part of what the world heard was only 15 minutes. There’s a number of other hours that the world doesn’t know.”
Sterling told CNN he’s not sure who released the recording.
“I don’t know. An 80-year-old man is kind of foolish, and I’m kind of foolish. I thought she liked me and really cared for me,” he said. “I guess being 51 years older than her, I was deluding myself. … I just wish I could ask her why, and if she was just setting me up.”
Sterling says he’s spoken with Magic Johnson
Referring to Johnson, Sterling purportedly said on the recording: “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. And don’t bring him to my games.”
As criticism over the recording spread, Johnson was among the first to say that Sterling should be forced to sell the team.
“He shouldn’t own a team any more. And he should stand up and say, ‘I don’t want to own a team any more,’ ” Johnson said in an ABC pregame show interview last month.
Sterling told CNN he’s spoken twice with Johnson.
“Did you apologize to him?” Cooper asked.
“If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry,” Sterling said. “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.”
Will owners force sale?
The matter of the team’s sale is with the NBA’s Advisory/Finance Committee, which met Wednesday in a conference call. Members discussed the “termination of Mr. Sterling’s ownership of the team,” the NBA said in a news release. The committee will meet again next week, the statement said.
If the case proceeds to a full vote, 75% of the owners would have to approve the forced sale.
However, an attorney for Donald Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, 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.”
Parsons told reporters Monday that he believed the NBA’s push for an ownership change would be successful.
“My personal belief is that the league will prevail, which means that there will be an ownership change,” Parsons said. “That’s a personal belief based on having not only looked at the (documents), but looked (NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver in the eye and seen the determination, and my goodness, I mean, this is just, there’s so much momentum for doing the right thing here, and so much support for doing the right thing, that at the end of the day, I believe ownership will change.”
Players who spoke with CNN’s Nichols on Monday also said Sterling’s comments to CNN didn’t change their mind about the embattled Clippers owner.
“They want him now separated from his team completely, not just banned, but to sell the team,” Nichols said. “That feeling is stronger than ever.”
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