An Instagram photo of Magic Johnson posing with Donald Sterling’s female friend V. Stiviano has become a historical document.
After TMZ released unverified audio of Sterling purportedly making racist comments about the photo, it will be the last time anyone will see Johnson at a Clippers game at Staples Center.
“I will never again set foot in Staples Center when the Clippers are playing,” Johnson said Saturday afternoon in a phone interview. “I know where I’m not wanted.”
Johnson was furious upon hearing the comments, which were aimed at all African Americans, and is calling upon the NBA to take serious action that could include stripping Sterling of his ownership duties.
“Something has to be done, and if that means him losing the team, then that has to happen,” Johnson said. “The league has to come down hard and make a statement.’'
Sterling dominated the sports world Saturday after a transcript of a tape allegedly had him berating Stiviano for being seen with Johnson.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” the man says in the audio. “Do you have to?”
The man added, “You can sleep with [black people)], you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is to not promote on that [Instagram] … and not to bring them to my games.”
Johnson said he was stunned by the ignorance of the statements.
“This is so crazy, he doesn’t want African Americans to come to his game, he doesn’t want them to be part of anything over there, yet he wants his team of mostly African Americans to win him a championship?” Johnson said. “You don’t want us in your building, but you want us to win a title for you?’'
Johnson said the comments are particularly hurtful in a diverse city like Los Angeles, as the words betrayed the very people upon whose loyalty Sterling has long depended.
“There are African Americans living in his building, African Americans buying his season tickets, African Americans putting money in his pockets, yet he doesn’t want them near him?” Johnson said. “He tells them don’t bother to come, he doesn’t want them in his arena? In the most diverse city in the United States? How can somebody like that be running a sports team?”
Johnson feels that Sterling’s statements would validate years of racism charges against the owner, a history that Johnson feels should be enough to strip Sterling of his powers.
“I guess he proved Elgin Baylor right when Elgin sued him for this,” Johnson said. “Nobody wanted to pay attention to it back then, but now, he showed his true colors, and how can you own a sports team and be like that? Aren’t sports the one thing that brings us together?”
(Baylor, the former Clippers general manger, filed a wrongful-termination suit against Sterling several years ago and a jury rejected the claim.)
Johnson said his biggest concern was for the Clippers players and coaches, and he phoned Coach Doc Rivers on Saturday afternoon to offer his support and encourage them to keep playing.
“I feel really bad for them, they are trying to win a championship while, at the same time, most of them are African American men who have to explain this to their children, it’s such an awkward position,” Johnson said.
Though a one-game boycott in the playoffs might have seemed like a strong message, Johnson said it was the wrong message.
“I would never want them to do that. Please, don’t even attempt to do that,” he said. “They need to stay focused on their dreams, they worked eight months to put themselves in this position, they have a chance to win a championship, they need to go for it. Guys like me will handle the other stuff.”
Johnson said Sterling’s basketball investment will take a big hit later, when the Clippers try to attract free agents.
“Right now, in that area, they’re done, that’s it, you have an owner saying you don’t like African Americans, you’re trying to recruit players, that’s not going to happen,” Johnson said.
If nothing else, Donald Sterling has already lost one notable spectator.