LOS ANGELES — Magic Johnson on Tuesday responded to Donald Sterling’s attacks on him, calling the Los Angeles Clippers owner’s statements “very disturbing.”
Sterling lashed out at Johnson during a CNN interview broadcast Monday night, alluding to the NBA great’s HIV-positive diagnosis and saying he was not a good role model for the children of Los Angeles.
“We’ve got to pray for the man,” Johnson told TMZ.com during the website’s call-in show Tuesday. “I think we need to get him some help.”
Johnson defended himself against criticism by Sterling that he has not contributed to the African-American community, listing some of his charitable works.
“I am a proud black man. I am one of the leaders in the black community,” he said.
Sterling’s comments came as he addressed racial remarks he made that prompted the NBA to ban him for life. In a recording released by TMZ two weeks ago, Sterling tells a female friend, V. Stiviano, not to associate with black people, including Johnson.
“What kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then catches” HIV? Sterling told Anderson Cooper. “I think he should be ashamed of himself.”
Sterling also questioned whether Johnson has made a positive contribution to the African-American community in Los Angeles. He then pointed to his own charitable work.
“Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people,” he said.
In response, Johnson told TMZ that Sterling appeared to be trying to divide the blacks and Jewish communities but that it would not work. Johnson said he has received calls from members of both communities expressing their support.
Johnson was also interviewed by CNN’s Cooper, for a report that was to be broadcast Tuesday evening.
CNN released a portion of the interview Tuesday afternoon. In it, Johnson says: “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.”
The CNN interview with Sterling sparked a new round of outrage against the Clippers owner. Sterling apologized for his statements on the recording. But his comments about Johnson left some questioning whether he was truly sorry.
“If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry,” Sterling told Cooper. “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.”
Sterling apologized for what he said on the tape.
“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 said. “I was baited. ... 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.”
At the time the tape was released, Stiviano and Sterling’s wife, Shelly, were locked in a legal battle, with Shelly demanding that Stiviano give back cars and a $1.8 million condo that Donald Sterling had allegedly given her.
The CNN interview was released hours after Shelly Sterling spoke with ABC’s Barbara Walters.
Shelly Sterling said she may eventually divorce Donald Sterling and will fight efforts to force her to sell her share of the Clippers.
In the ABC interview, Shelly Sterling also suggested that Donald Sterling was suffering from dementia, which she said could explain the comments caught on tape.
“I was shocked by what he said,” Shelly Sterling told Walters. “But I don’t know why I should be punished for what his actions were.”
The NBA responded to the recordings by banning Donald Sterling for life and saying it would seek to force him to sell the team. But Shelly Sterling said she sees the Clippers as part of her family legacy.
“I’m wondering if a wife of one of the owners, and there’s 30 owners, did something like that, said those racial slurs, would they oust the husband? Or would they leave the husband in?” she said.