sterling magic

Up until tonight I had been fairly entertained by the whole Donald Sterling-V. Stiviano scandal. This story had all the classic elements of one of those cheesy ABC Movies of the Week we used to watch back in the 70s starring the sleazy self-made billionaire from the wrong side of the 110 Freeway, his multiracial mistress, the perpetually nipped and tucked estranged wife and a cameo appearance by a much-beloved international icon.

To call this story that resulted in Sterling being banned from the NBA for life a train wreck would be truly inaccurate. This train was never on the right track and was programmed to derail.

donald sterling & anderson cooper

Donald Sterling & CNN’s Anderson Cooper

That was painfully apparent on Monday night when CNN’s Anderson Cooper sat down with Sterling at his Beverly Hills mansion to discuss the incidents that led up to him becoming America’s new poster child for persona non grata.

Nearly three weeks ago audio recordings of Sterling and his then mistress/personal assistant V. Stiviano surfaced on TMZ in which Sterling chastised his 31-year-old mixed-race companion for associating with black people–particularly Johnson, who appeared in an Instagram photo with V. We later found out that Sterling’s wife Shelly had filed a $1.8 million lawsuit against the woman who had been the recipient of a Beverly Hills duplex apartment building, several luxury cars and some cold hard Sterling cash.

The lawsuit itself struck me as odd because $1.8 million is lunch money for the Sterlings. I immediately smelled the droppings of a conspiratorial rat. Methinks Shelly should save the money she’s spending on lawyers to retain her 50 percent ownership stake in the Clippers and invest in Instagram or therapy.

Speaking of which, Donald T. Sterling clearly is not in good health. Even more disturbing then some of the things he said on AC 360 last night was the realization that no one around him tried to stop him from doing so on international TV.

There’s dementia, which Shelly Sterling says her husband has; and then there’s the abyss. I truly believe that Sterling lives on the corner of the latter and OMG with George Zimmerman heading up his neighborhood watch team.

What transpired when Cooper asked Sterling questions about V. Stiviano, Magic Johnson and his team is truly a sad reflection of a man who is so rich and out of touch that no one dare tell him for fear of being kicked off the gravy train. If I had one wish for Sterling–other than that he would go away so we could focus on real news like: the Michael Sam kiss, the elevator incident with Jay-Z and Solange Knowles and the Sherri Shepherd separation–it would be that he could find some real friends.

The Donald Sterling I knew when I covered the Clippers in the ’95-96 season was a bit eccentric, but always very friendly to me and seemingly knew when to hold his tongue. He was notoriously press shy and generally refused all exclusive interview requests. But I was friends with his then personal assistant and maybe that made me an acceptable black and/or beat reporter because he agreed to chat with me for about an hour on the phone during the NBA playoffs in June 1996.

I don’t actually remember much about that conversation other than him telling me about his rise from Boyle Heights to Beverly Hills. The former lawyer had built his empire through a series of real estate investments. It was rumored that he made about $600 a minute. He also tried to convince me that his 17-65 Clippers were a good team, that he was a good owner and that he couldn’t understand why people thought he had made some bad personnel moves in the past. I do remember that Chuck Scott, the man who edited my piece for The Orange County Register, re-wrote my lede, essentially labeling Sterling an incompetent clown. Needless to say the Sterling camp was upset but I never heard from him personally. Sticks, stones nor words can hurt a billionaire from an alternate universe.

At 80, Sterling with his dyed hair, Botoxed face and pot belly is more tragic than freakish. And while I think his history of racist remarks and discriminatory actions against tenants of color are grounds for his expulsion from the predominantly-pigmented NBA, right now I feel more empathy than anger.

There’s no way that a sane man could utter things like:

  • “I contend that (the Clippers) love me.

(Blake Griffin just turned off CNN to watch the 10,000th replay of the Michael Sam kiss.)

  • “My players make $100 million a year.”

(Chris Paul just rang his lawyer to get out of his contract.)

  • “What has Magic Johnson ever done…what has he done for the black people..He has AIDS..Is that someone we should respect and tell our kids about?”

(Magic just bought The Staples Center and replaced all the minimum-wage brothers and sisters with dropouts from The Buckley School.)

No one in their right mind questions what Johnson has done philanthropically. The only thing Sterling said all night that made sense and rings true is that Jews do help their own. Right now he needs the help and prayers of God’s chosen peeps.

But wait a second. This just in. Maybe Sterling is the smartest man on the planet. Maybe his cra-cra rants and his reported prostate cancer are all an act. This might explain why his legal team didn’t try to block the Anderson interview. Crazy buys you favor in the swing states and cancer often results in a moral reprieve. Maybe Team Sterling set this scene up just like V. Stiviano and her crew set up her former boss.

Now that’s entertainment. I’ve already got Kathryn Bigelow attached to direct with Alec Baldwin playing Sterling. He’ll be joined by Kim Basinger as Shelly, Tyler Perry as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kim Kartrashian as V. Stiviano, Tristan Wilds as Chris Paul, Forest Whittaker as Doc Rivers and Rainn Wilson as Adam Silver.

Regardless of what script you might want to option, the truly sad reality is that Sterlingate has made us all take a selfie with the eyes of the world upon us. As Americans we’ve not yet figured out how to navigate this race thing. You say too much, you get fired, get your ass kicked or as in Sterling’s case, risk losing an NBA franchise that is finally turning a profit after years of being in the red. You say too little and some hack columnist, pompous pundit or street-corner activist strings you up like a plantation patsy.

While I admit I was having some plantation flashbacks after hearing him talk about giving his players homes, cars and money on the leaked audio tape, Sterling’s comments–whether real or imagined–are reflective of our past and present. And anyone who thinks otherwise is just as delusional as this 80-year-old Jewish man from Boyle Heights.

magic johnson cnn

Magic Johnson on CNN’s “AC360,” May 13, 2014  (Scroll down for clips)

Johnson will get an opportunity to share his thoughts about being cast in this epic biopic on Tuesday night when he appears on Anderson’s show. I know him, too, and I’m hoping Johnson will use his time wisely. At this stage in the game it’s not about pointing fingers or disputing Sterling’s flagrant fouls, it’s about dishing it off to the trailing media and moving on. That’s the only way he’ll win this game.

Any other game plan would be totally less than Sterling.


Miki Turner

Miki Turner is an award-winning photojournalist, author and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California. 

Below, a preview of Magic Johnson’s interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper: