Magic Johnson responded Tuesday to negative remarks made about him in a television interview by Donald Sterling, calling the banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner's apparent anger toward him misplaced and saying he intends to pray for the reportedly sick 80-year-old.
Sterling has been embroiled in controversy for the past 2 1/2 weeks, since the publication of audio recordings that include him chastising former assistant/alleged girlfriend V. Stiviano for “associating” with minorities, "promoting" said associations by posting pictures she'd taken with black people on her Instagram account, and potentially bringing African Americans to Clippers home games. Sterling specifically references the former Los Angeles Lakers legend and current part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the recording: "… Don't put him [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."
In his first televised interview since the publication of the tapes and his subsequent banning from the NBA, Sterling went after Johnson during a bizarre chat with CNN's Anderson Cooper broadcast Monday night. He lambasted Johnson for a poor role model for children due to the sexual promiscuity that led to him contracting HIV, which Sterling wrongly characterized multiple times as AIDS. He also accused Johnson of not doing anything for the black community or for inner-city youth, and said that Johnson "should be ashamed of himself."
Johnson began his response Tuesday on Twitter:
But it's not next week yet.
Johnson called TMZ Live to refute Sterling's claims that he hasn't done anything for the black community.
"I'm a proud black man," said Johnson, who, as CNN notes, has "raised more than $20 million for charity and given almost $4 million in scholarships" through the Magic Johnson Foundation, which also performs HIV/AIDS education and outreach work. "I'm a leader in the black community and I take that role seriously."
Johnson also claimed to have spoken to Sterling after the audio recordings were published.
"Donald Sterling reached out to me [and] I took the call," Johnson told TMZ. "When he wanted me to go on Barbara Walters with him and try to save him and his reputation, I told him I would not go on the show with him, and I told him, 'You should seek the advice of your attorney and try to make this thing go away. Whether that's making a deal with [V. Stiviano] or whatever the case may be.'
"'And, No. 1, you've got to apologize not only to me, but all minorities out there, because you haven't apologized yet,'" Johnson added. "He said, 'Oh, I'm gonna get to that, I'm gonna get to that.' Not once, even today, has he ever apologized to me or the other minorities he offended."
Johnson also sat down with CNN's Cooper for an interview, from which the network released excerpts earlier Tuesday:
"My whole life is devoted to urban America. So, you know I just wish he knew the facts when he's talking," Johnson told CNN's Anderson Cooper exclusively Tuesday. "But he's a man who's upset and he's reaching. He's reaching. He's trying to find something that he can grab on to help him save his team. And it's not going to happen. ... I'm a God-fearing man and I'm going to pray for him and hope things work out for him."
Johnson's full interview with Cooper will air on CNN at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Sterling's comments drew instant and widespread backlash. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement saying he felt "compelled on behalf of the NBA family to apologize to [Johnson] that he continues to be dragged into this situation and be degraded by such a malicious and personal attack." Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said of Sterling's interview, "Whatever it is, that doesn't sound like much of an apology to me." And on Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti offered his own defense of Magic, according to the Los Angeles Times:
“Everybody has hardships they overcome," Garcetti said. "People have challenges in life and he [Johnson] embodies that. This is the city of second chances.” […]
Talking to reporters Tuesday morning, Garcetti called Johnson a "major contributor to this city" and said that in addition to being a great basketball player, he's helped people overcome social challenges.
"To me, he represents the best of L.A.," said the mayor. "To hear him badmouthed — I can't think, in many ways, of a better person to inspire youth in this city than Magic Johnson."
I'm not entirely sure Magic Johnson, a widely beloved immensely wealthy man who already holds an ownership stake in one Los Angeles professional sports team and may well soon add another to his portfolio, needs many more apologies, kind words and gestures of support — especially when they're coming from everybody but the person who's actually insulting him — but I'm sure he appreciates them just the same.
The NBA Board of Governors' Advisory/Finance Committee, meanwhile, continues to work toward ousting the Sterling family from the ranks of ownership. They held a conference call Tuesday to discuss the recent media appearances by Sterling and his estranged wife Shelly, and "reviewed the status of the charge for termination of the Clippers’ ownership." They'll meet again next week.
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