AFRICANGLOBE – It was billed as an apology for racist comments that created a firestorm – but the Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has unleashed a new row by launching a searing attack on Magic Johnson and wealthy African Americans.
The Jewish tycoon used an interview aired on Monday to apologise for the tirade against Black people caught on tape last month but then depicted Johnson, who has HIV, of being a womanising disease-carrier.
In what may become a case study in how not to defuse a crisis, Sterling, a national pariah who is battling to keep his basketball team, also accused wealthy Black people of being stingy philanthropists in contrast to Jews such as himself.
The 80-year-old, speaking to CNN’s Anderson Cooper in his first television interview since the crisis broke, insisted he was no racist and asked forgiveness for making derogatory comments about Black people in the leaked tape, saying he had been “baited” into doing so.
But then the attempt at damage control self-destructed. Sterling accused Johnson, a basketball legend turned investor and one of the US’s most beloved African Americans, of deceitfulness and promiscuity.
“Big Magic Johnson, what has he done? He’s got Aids … what kind of a guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV?”
The former Lakers star was diagnosed with HIV in 1991 and through the Magic Johnson Foundation is a leading campaigner for awareness and treatment. His infection has not led to Aids.
Sterling conflated the virus with the full-blown disease and referred to it in the plural. “When he had those Aids I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him.”
Sterling said he admired Johnson, 53, as a “good” man, then contradicted himself. “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. But what does he do for the Black people? He doesn’t do anything.”
In the original leaked conversation, Sterling complained to a female friend, V Stiviano, that she had posed for photographs with Johnson and asked her to not bring Black people to Clippers games.
President Barack Obama led a wave of condemnation and the National Basketball Association banned Sterling for life, saying he would have to sell the team.
The real estate magnate replied that he wished to keep it, signalling a possibly protracted legal battle, and blamed his delay in publicly responding on Johnson, who is part of a consortium that wants to buy the Clippers.
Sterling said the retired athlete called him when the furore broke and told him to remain silent in apparent hope of negotiating a quick sale. “He just said ‘Wait, be patient, I’ll help you, we’ll work it out’ … I think he wanted me to do nothing so he could buy the team.”
Sterling also contrasted Jewish philanthropy with that of African Americans. “Jews when they get successful, they will help their people, and some of the African Americans – maybe I’ll get in trouble again – they don’t want to help anybody,” he said.
Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, issued a swift statement condemning Sterling’s latest outburst. “I just read a transcript of Donald Sterling’s interview … 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.”
Johnson tweeted: “I’d rather be talking about these great NBA playoffs than Donald Sterling’s interview.” Lon Rosen, his friend and business partner, defended the basketball star as a man devoted to creating business opportunities in urban America. “He has literally donated tens of millions of dollars of his own money to organizations and individuals forever and ever and ever.”
In trying to atone for the original comments that ignited the controversy, Sterling said he had been “foolish” and “baited” into making the comments by Stiviano, a woman 51 years his junior. “I don’t know why the girl had me say those things … 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.”
He said he was a good member of the NBA and requested forgiveness. “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.”
However even before his latest gaffe political and sporting figures insisted Sterling must sell the Clippers, with some warning of a player boycott if he tried to remain as owner.
LeBron James of the Miami Heat said players also opposed Sterling’s wife, Shelly, remaining as an owner. “As players we want what’s right, and we feel like no one in his family should be able to own the team.” The NBA has also said that Shelly Sterling should not remain as owner.
Sterling has faced previous accusations of racism related to the Clippers and his property empire.
By: Rory Carroll
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