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.