Johnson won five titles with the Lakers
. (Earl Gibson III/Getty Images Entertainment)
After berating his girlfriend for posting a photo of Magic Johnson to her Instagram account during a series of racist remarks that were caught on tape, disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling is now suggesting that the Lakers legend isn't a role model.
Making his first public statements in the 16 days since the racially-charged audio first leaked, Sterling apologized for his comments in a CNN interview and said that he was "asking for forgiveness."
When the topic turned to Johnson, however, the 80-year-old Sterling questioned the Hall of Fame point guard's credibility and commitment to minority communities.
"If I said anything wrong, I'm sorry," Sterling told CNN. "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."
Johnson, 54, was one of the most beloved players in league history, capturing five titles, three MVP awards and three Finals MVP awards while making 12 All-Star Game appearances during his 13-year career. The motor behind the "Showtime" Lakers of the 1980s, Johnson widely regarded as one of the greatest point guards of all time.
Since his final retirement in 1996, Johnson has served as Lakers coach, he held an ownership stake in the Lakers, he assembled a group that purchased the L.A. Dodgers, and he has served as a television commentator. In 1991, Johnson announced that he was HIV-positive, and he has spent years championing HIV and AIDS-related causes. Additionally, Johnson owns a chain of movie theaters, among other business ventures, and his net worth is reportedly hundreds of millions of dollars.
Shortly after Sterling's first comments became public, NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him from attending NBA games, practices, the Clippers’ facilities, and all personnel decisions. The NBA’s 10-member advisory/finance committee also voted unanimously to pursue Silver’s plan to oust Sterling and complete an ownership change. During his announcement of Sterling's punishment, Silver apologized to Johnson.
"I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations and caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league," Silver said. "To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize."
In a statement issued prior to his lifetime ban, Sterling failed to acknowledge that it was his voice on the tape, but he did issue an indirect apology to Johnson.
"[Sterling] is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson," the statement read. "He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him– both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved."
Then, in comments that leaked out last week, Sterling allegedly admitted that "jealousy" fueled his initial comments about Johnson and other African-Americans.
"The girl is black. I like her. I’m jealous that she’s with other black guys. I want her," Sterling allegedly said, according to RadarOnline.com. "I never thought a private conversation would go anywhere out to the public. ... I didn’t want her to bring anybody to my game because I was jealous. I mean, I’m being honest."
Johnson, for his part, was furious when the tapes first became public, pledging never to attend a Clippers game until Sterling was removed as owner.
Johnson also described meeting Sterling more than 30 years ago in an interview with CBSLA.com that was conducted shortly after the first tape leaked.
“I’m very disappointed, angry and upset. Let’s go back when I first got here in 1979. Dr. [Jerry] Buss took me to my first real party at Donald Sterling’s house in Malibu for his annual BBQ. Ever since then, since Dr. Buss introduced me to him at the time he bought the Clippers, we’ve been out, we’ve had lunch and even shared meals to talk about his team, so I thought we had a sort of a friendship, even though it may be a distant one.
“I respect him, I thought he respected me, but when these comments came out, it hurt. It didn’t hurt me as much personally as it hurt me for all African-Americans."
"If you come to me and say, ‘Hey look I'm a racist or I discriminate against blacks or I don't like you because you're African American, I respect that. I can respect you more by doing that, but don't smile in my face, shake my hand and then you don't really respect me or want me to be around or come to your games as the owner of the Clippers.”
As it became clear that Silver was intent on pushing out Sterling, Johnson's name was rumored as a possible buyer for the Clippers, and he called on Sterling to sell the team in multiple interviews.
"I would definitely take a look at [buying the Clippers] because I am a businessman," he said, according to the AFP. "But we here in Los Angeles, whether it's myself or somebody else, we just want an owner who will include everybody, who will understand diversity and not include all races of people."
Meanwhile, Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling's wife, has pledged to "fight" to keep the Clippers. Johnson said this week that the Clippers' players do not want to play for either one of the Sterling.
"Those guys are not going to play for anybody [with the name] Sterling," Johnson said, according to USA Today Sports. "It’s just how it is. It’s hard to separate the two. … It’s going to be hard for them to sell that to the fans and definitely to the players."
Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association have made similar comments regarding Donald and Shelly Sterling.
The NBA has placed former Clippers president Andy Roeser on a leave of absence and appointed former Citigroup chairman Dick Parsons as the organization's new CEO.
Donald Sterling is reportedly battling cancer, and Shelly Sterling suggested in a recent interview that her husband could be suffering from the "onset of dementia."