Magic Johnson is ready to put the last month behind him.
After being shamed for his HIV-positive diagnosis, targeted for the color of his skin and dragged into the epicenter of a scandal against his will, the NBA legend now says he only feels sorry for the man behind the character attacks: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
“I just feel sorry for him,” Johnson told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I really do. It’s sad. … The problem is, he is living in the Stone Ages. He can’t make those comments about African-Americans or Latinos. He just can’t do it.”
The day before, Sterling broke his public silence for the first time since leaked recordings captured him making offensive remarks against African-Americans, including Johnson. In an interview aired by CNN Monday, Sterling suggested that Johnson should be ashamed for being HIV-positive, and questioned whether one of the best point guards in NBA history contributed to his community.
“What kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he goes and catches HIV,” Sterling said. “Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself.”
Sterling is on the brink of losing it all. The NBA already banned him from the league for life, and slapped him with a $2.5 million fine – the maximum the league allows. NBA officials and team owners across the league are now banding together in efforts to strip Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers and force a sale of the team he’s own since 1981.
Johnson called the multiple tirades against him “disgusting,” but said he was going to take the high road if he ever sees Sterling again.
“I’m going to pray for the man because even if I see him today, I’m going to say hello to Donald and his wife as well,” Johnson said. “I’m not a guy who holds grudges and all that.”
Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, has injected herself into the controversy in arguing it’s her right to maintain co-ownership of the Clippers, even if her husband is forced out. In an interview with TODAY, she accused the NBA of sexism for how the league is treating her.
“Would an owner’s wife say the same thing and would the owner be asked to leave the NBA? Or would they just say, well, she’s only the wife,” she told TODAY.
Shelly Sterling also suggested her husband potentially suffers from dementia, saying it might explain why his comments do not always come across as lucid.
“I felt bad for him,” she told TODAY. “Because he’s not the man I know. Or I knew. There’s something wrong.”