SBD/May 14, 2014/Franchises

In Interview, Johnson Defends Himself After Sterling's Latest Controversial Comments

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Johnson defended his integrity and role as a leader of the black community
Magic Johnson yesterday said that Clippers Owner Donald Sterling is "'delusional' in thinking that his players love him and lost 'in another world' if he believes that the public wants him to maintain his grip on the NBA franchise despite his racially inflammatory remarks," according to James Rainey in a front-page piece for the L.A. TIMES. In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Johnson "mounted a robust defense of his integrity and his role as a leader of the black community." Johnson's interview "came as he continued to receive an outpouring of support from the community and from political leaders ... and on the day when the NBA said it was still moving toward stripping Sterling of the franchise that he bought" in '81 (L.A. TIMES, 5/14). In California, Janis Carr notes Johnson sees Sterling as a "sad, angry man who simply is lashing out, grasping at anything to maintain control of the Clippers." Johnson's 45-minute interview "was in response to Sterling’s interview the previous day in which he slammed Johnson" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 5/14). The AP noted Johnson "mostly avoided lashing back at criticism from Sterling" (AP, 5/13). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes Johnson was "composed and gracious." But the fact that Sterling's views "even have to be addressed give them a degree of legitimacy they don't deserve" (USA TODAY, 5/14).

Among excerpts from Johnson's conversation with Cooper:

JOHNSON, on his first conversations with Sterling after the controversy first broke: "I get a call from Donald Sterling. ... He asked me to go on the Barbara Walters show with him. ... I told him I wouldn't do it. I said, the number one thing you need to do, which you haven't done, is apologize to everybody and myself. 'I will get to that. I will get to that.' ... I said no (about going on the show)."

COOPER: How did he respond to that? 

JOHNSON: "'Well, I will apologize later. But I want you to go on this show.' He was adamant about me going on the show with him. And I told him, no, I wouldn't do it. And that's what happened. ... Then I called Adam Silver, our great commissioner, and told him what had happened. ... I wanted him to know that it happened, so he wouldn't be blindsided either."

JOHNSON, on Sterling’s recent interview with Cooper: "It is a shame that Donald used this platform with you, instead of coming out apologizing to the world, which would have been great, and said, you know what, I'm sorry, I have made some mistakes, and just -- and left it there -- Magic Johnson should not have been included in your conversation, because I have nothing to do with this. ... (But) you want to try to disrespect me, of the work that I have done in the minority community, that really makes me upset." 

JOHNSON: "The (NBA) Board of Governors got to do their job. And, again, I'm going to pray for the man."

COOPER: "He claims the Clippers still love him. He claims the players -- he says he believes the players genuinely love him, and they have just been pressured by the media and others."

JOHNSON: "Really? Hmm. Now he is delusional. And not only the Clippers don't love him. The other players in the NBA don't love him. So, the players have rallied together. Now, the only thing they're waiting for is to see what is going to happen with the vote and the Board of Governors."

COOPER: "Sterling claims that, push comes to shove, he can kind of bide time. ... He clearly believes there is a route for him to remain as owner of the L.A. Clippers." 

JOHNSON: "He can't buy his way out of this one.  He has bought his way out of all the other situations.  Can't do it this time. ... All I know is that Donald Sterling is not welcome back in the NBA. ... He should not be welcomed by the owners. I hope they vote it right. But the players, former players and the fans ... don't want to see Donald Sterling as the owner anymore." 

COOPER: "You know, he was saying that there's a $3 billion TV deal on his desk with Fox that he can negotiate, that there is money to be made, and he is the guy to do it." 

JOHNSON: "No question about that, there is money to be made."

COOPER: "Are you interested in the Clippers?"

JOHNSON: "Well, you know, we have to wait.  That's going to be eight months to a year to see if it ever hits the market.  But, for me, if it comes out, and it's for sale, and my Guggenheim Partners and I say, OK, we want to take a look at it and we want to buy it, of course we will make a run for it. ... What I want -- really would want to do - is own the Lakers. If any team I want to really have or be a part of would be the Lakers, not the Clippers. ... This notion that I want his team? If I was going to trick somebody, deceive somebody, be dishonest to somebody, steal somebody's franchise, it is going to be the Los Angeles Lakers" (CNN, 5/13). 

REAX: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said of Johnson, "He represents the best of L.A. To hear him bad mouthed -- I can't think, in many ways, of a better person to inspire youth in this city than Magic Johnson." He added the Clippers need new ownership. Garcetti: "I stand firm with the NBA that this team must change hands. ... The Sterlings need to be gone from this team period."  Meanwhile, Clippers G Chris Paul and F Blake Griffin "pointedly declined Tuesday to express the love for Sterling that the owner insisted the team had for him." Paul: "I don't know about that." Griffin: "If you ask every single guy on this team, they'd say they love their family. They love their teammates. That's who we're playing for" (L.A. TIMES, 5/14).

Silver explained that he did not "have to" issue a
statement about Sterling, but he "wanted to"
SILVER DISCUSSES STATEMENT
: In N.Y., Harvey Araton notes NBA Commissioner Adam Silver "explained why he had prepared a statement condemning Sterling's latest remarks." Silver: "I didn't have to. I wanted to." Silver agreed that the night "was surreal, given how Sterling again intruded on what has been a stirring basketball spring." Silver: "I could imagine people at home, switching back and forth. Part of what the NBA is dealing with right now." Araton writes if Sterling "achieved anything on the set with Cooper, it was to make Johnson and his well-financed Guggenheim group even more of a sentimental favorite to wind up with the team" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/14). The NBA Advisory & Finance Committee met again yesterday and discussed the recent media appearances by Donald and Shelly Sterling, as well as receiving updates on the hiring of Dick Parsons and on his meetings with Clippers employees. The committee reviewed the status of its actions on the Clippers' ownership and will reconvene next week (NBA).

TIME FOR THEM TO GO: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes Donald and Rochelle Sterling "are both swinging wildly now, humiliating themselves, embarrassing their city and distracting their basketball team with every ugly lunge." The Sterlings "are fighting so recklessly, with so much blood spilling down their legacies, that they cannot see a reality that would make them put down their dime-store gloves and stop" (L.A. TIMES, 5/14). Luntz Global CEO Frank Luntz: "I don't understand how he could say that the sponsors still like him, or the fans still like him, or the players. The fact is I can't imagine a single player playing for him" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 5/13). SI.com's Phil Taylor wrote the Sterlings' "combativeness seems unlikely to keep the league from excising them entirely" (SI.com, 5/13). TNT's Shaquille O'Neal said after Sterling's criticism of Johnson, "I just hope that the other NBA owners realize what we realize: That there's no room for this in the game of basketball" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 5/13). In Detroit, Terry Foster writes the "bottom line is Sterling is bad for the Clippers, bad for the NBA, bad for minorities and bad for business." He "simply must go away" (DETROIT NEWS, 5/14).

A DAMAGE-CONTROL DEBACLE: In L.A., Fleming & Chang cite crisis-management experts as saying that Sterling's performance on CNN was a "textbook case of how to turn a public relations crisis into a catastrophe." Experts "wondered whether Sterling was being advised by a reputable public relations firm or was flying solo." CNN confirmed that Sterling "was unaccompanied by any professional handlers during the interview" (L.A. TIMES, 5/14). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said Sterling "is like Archie Bunker without the laugh track." ESPN's Tony Kornheiser added, "He's going to die a ruined man" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/13). In DC, Jena McGregor wrote Sterling's interview is, "without question, a study in damage control gone wrong." The interview "quickly morphed into a public relations morass" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/13). ESPN.com's Jason Whitlock noted for the interview, Sterling "eschewed the help of counsel, both legal and public relations, and entered the ring alone." However, he "left on a stretcher, unaware of the fatal self-inflicted wounds." Whitlock wrote Sterling "is a white supremacist making a final plea to a small council of men he believes sympathize with his plight" (ESPN.com, 5/13). The S.F. Chronicle's Ann Killion said Sterling is providing the NBA "all the evidence it wants" to prove he is unfit to own the team ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 5/13).

TUNING IN TO THE TRAINWRECK: In L.A., Ryan Faughnder notes "AC 360" averaged 720,000 total viewers on Monday for Sterling's interview, "up 42% from the 508,000 average for the show over the last four weeks." The surge "was even bigger" among adults 25-54. Cooper "drew 294,000 viewers in the key demo, which is 73% higher than the prior four-week average of 170,000" (L.A. TIMES, 5/14).

PLAYER BOYCOTT RESURFACES
: USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt wrote "don't be surprised" if Heat F LeBron James "distances himself from comments" made by former teammate and NBPA First VP Roger Mason." Mason told Showtime's Jim Rome, "If it's not handled by ... the start of next season, I don't see how we're playing basketball. ... At the end of the day, you know we have leaders, we have player reps, we've got executive committee members. ... Leaders of the teams, they're all saying the same thing: 'If this man is still in place, we ain't playing.'" But James on Sunday said, "At the end of the day, this is going to be a long litigation" (USATODAY.com, 5/13). SI.com's Ben Golliver noted Mason "clarified that the ultimatum applies equally to Shelly Sterling, too." Mason: "No Sterling deserves to be an owner of that franchise any longer" (SI.com, 5/13).
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