Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s televised apology aimed at cooling a racism row only fuelled the fire on Monday when he took a vicious swipe at NBA icon Magic Johnson.
Sterling, already banned for life by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, apologised profusely for the bigoted comments that have the league attempting to strip him of ownership of the club.
But in his interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, which aired on Monday night, Sterling also criticised Johnson – a beloved figure in Los Angeles – as a poor role model because he contracted HIV.
He also suggested Johnson hasn’t used his wealth to help the African-American community.
“He acts so holy,” Sterling said of Johnson. “He does nothing. It’s all talk.”
The attack was sharp enough to draw a statement from Silver, who said the league was pressing ahead with efforts to remove Sterling “as expeditiously as possible”.
“I just read a transcript of Donald Sterling’s interview with Anderson Cooper and while Magic Johnson doesn’t need me to, I feel compelled on behalf of the NBA family to apologise to him that he continues to be dragged into this situation and be degraded by such a malicious and personal attack,” Silver said.
“The NBA Board of Governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr Sterling as expeditiously as possible.”
Sterling’s interview with Cooper marked his first lengthy response to the scandal that broke two weeks ago.
“I’m not a racist,” Sterling said. “I made a terrible mistake. I’m here to apologise.”
Asked by CNN why he waited until now to make his first public comments, Sterling said he has been “emotionally distraught”.
“The reason it’s hard for me, very hard for me, is that I’m wrong,” Sterling said. “I caused the problem. I don’t know how to correct it.”
However, the 80-year-old billionaire real estate developer also said he was “baited” by V. Stiviano, the young woman he chastised for publicly associating with black people in a private conversation that was recorded and later made public via celebrity news website TMZ.
In that recorded conversation, he seemed particularly irked that Stiviano had posted a picture of herself with Johnson on Instagram.
“Well yes, I was baited,” Sterling said. “I mean, that’s not the way I talk.”
In a league in which the players are predominantly black, and in a country that grapples with racial issues, Sterling has been widely condemned.
Richard Parsons, the man drafted by the NBA to oversee the Clippers now that Sterling is banned from league activities, said on Monday he believes the League will succeed in forcing a sale of the team.
It will take a vote of 75 percent of the remaining 29 NBA owners to force Sterling to relinquish the club, and Sterling questioned whether that would come to pass.
“Because the media says they want me out doesn’t mean they want me out,” he said.
In a further complication, Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, has said she’ll fight to keep her ownership stake, although the NBA insists she won’t have that right under the league’s constitution.
The upheaval comes as the Clippers have their best opportunity in years to fashion a deep playoff run. They are tied 2-2 in their best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series against Oklahoma City.