Donald Sterling says he was set up, says Magic Johnson bad role model for children of L.A. (VIDEO)

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The first rule on climbing out of a hole is to stop digging.

That’s what Donald Sterling intended to do with his sit down interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, which will air at length Monday night on the news network. Show the world he’s not a bad guy, start climbing out of his self-created hole.

But from the early excerpts released, it looks like Sterling had his shovel in hand and just kept on digging. And with that he gives the NBA more reason to oust him for being bad for business and the league’s image.

He did offer an apology for the racist comments he made on a leaked recording, comments that forced NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling from the team for life, fine him $2.5 million and to start efforts to force a sale of the team (something that requires a 3/4 vote of the other NBA owners).

“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.”

Then Sterling kept on digging. He says he was set up, that the words he spoke in private when he thought he could get away with it were not what he really thinks. Sterling goes with the odd “out of body experience” defense.

“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.”

The recorded fight that first aired on TMZ started because Sterling’s mistress V. Stiviano had posted photos on her Instagram account with Magic Johnson. On the recording Sterling questions why she would broadcast that she is seen with black men and he adds that he never wanted her to bring them or Magic to “his games,” referring to the Clippers. (Magic said no problem, I’ll never come to a Clippers game again so long as he is the owner.)

Sterling said he had spoken to Magic since the incident, but then couldn’t resist another dig.

“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.”

Magic is far from a perfect human being, but as a native Angelino if my children grow up to have the positive impact Magic did on Los Angeles I’d be incredibly proud. Not the impact he had as a player, the impact as a person, as a business man. For one, Johnson helped change the perception of HIV/AIDS with many people around the nation, showing it was more than a “gay plague” (as if that somehow made the deaths less tragic) and was something much bigger and far reaching.

Magic Johnson the business man made a chunk of his money building first-class shopping centers and bringing amenities such as new movie theaters and grocery stores to predominantly African-American (and other minority) neighborhoods. Johnson helped evolve neighborhoods. Where other developers feared to tread Magic was a pioneer and showed the institutional bias in the system.

Magic and his wife donate extensively to charity, both with their time and money. Not just putting their pictures in the paper touting projects that never come close to getting built (as Sterling did on Skid Row in Los Angeles, among other things). Magic backs up his words.

If Sterling’s issues with Magic are about cheating on his wife back in the day, that would be a sad coincidence.

Sterling says in the CNN interview he thinks he deserves a second chance from the other NBA owners after he made one mistake in 35 years. Suggesting that there has been just one mistake is laughable. He ran a shoddy organization only to make a profit for decades, something that just changed in recent years (and he still makes a healthy profit, which he should, but he’s spending now). His team was an embarrassment to the league for decades. That’s not even getting onto the housing discrimination lawsuits or reevaluations in the Elgin Baylor lawsuit. The league had Sterling sign additional ethics documents for a reason.

The fact of the matter is that the NBA’s moral outrage coincides with its business interests here — sponsors are pulling out from the Clippers and the players were considering a boycott if Silver had not come down hard on Sterling. The league will not back down here (although if they could find a compromise to make this go away and remove the Sterlings, they would consider it). In the middle of what has been a great playoffs for the league, they have had to deal with Sterling giving the Association its biggest black eye since the “malice in the Palace” incident. Because of that the league is not going to back off its efforts to force a sale here. Not with him or his wife.

You can be sure both of them will fight this, although in the interview Sterling suggests he doesn’t gain from a fight (this is where I think his wife is his proxy, that this is more coordinated than it appears at first blush). It is only going to get uglier.

Sterling will see this as fighting, but what he’s really doing is just keeping on digging.

DeMarcus Cousins thinks refs are giving him techs off reputation alone

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New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is a fiery personality on the court, often arguing foul calls at length despite no official in NBA history reversing a call directly after player complaint.

Crafty veterans — your LeBron Jameses and your Chris Pauls — slowly and pointedly chatter with officials as a means to influence their subconscious leaning on calls (and to protect them against earning techs when they do decide to straight up yell at refs).

Cousins hasn’t used that kind of angling to success in his career, instead going hard at referees with some consistency. Cousins has tried to change that approach this season, but instead has found that his prior actions have earned him a reputation the Pelicans forward believes doesn’t befit his actions in 2017-18.

Speaking to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Cousins said that despite letting more calls go and changing his candor, NBA refs are not responding proportionately.

Via The Undefeated:

I am going out of my way. I am going over and beyond,” Cousins said. “I am coming in saying, ‘We can’t do this, this and this …’ Even calls I know I should be arguing, I’m letting go. And they’re still like … it’s a one-sided thing. Everything is changing from one end. But with them, it’s like, ‘We are not letting go of the past. You are who you are. You’re getting a tech.’

“So, when it comes to me getting a tech for saying, ‘Good call, referee …,’ vets and coaches tell me to butter them up. Switch it up a little bit. Do a little reverse psychology. Tell them it’s a good call. And you still getting a tech for it? They’re not trying to make it work. They’re stuck in their ways, and it is so obvious.”

Cousins added that he believes foes are taking advantage of his troubles.

“Now it’s to the point where teams are saying, ‘Yeah, just go over there and beat the s— out of him.’ I don’t get calls, and I’m not protected like other players are,” he said.

It’s interesting to see that Cousins has at least tried to change things up, and indeed acknowledges that he should be trying to work with the officials rather than antagonize them.

Still, we’re not sure what the tone of his “good call” comments are toward the refs. Are they sarcastic? Or are they contrite? You can see how one might earn Cousins a tech from an official — who seem to be particularly sensitive this season — and the other might endear you to them.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.