Los Angeles – Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has offered his first public apology for racist remarks that saw him banned for life from the NBA.
Two weeks after the NBA banned him from all league activities, fined him $2.5 million and began proceedings to strip him of his team, the 80-year-old real estate billionaire insisted he's not a racist.
“I'm not a racist,” Sterling told CNN's Anderson Cooper in an interview due to air Monday. “I made a terrible mistake. I'm here to apologise.”
The interview, excerpts of which were posted on CNN's website, marks Sterling's first public comments on the scandal since celebrity gossip website TMZ posted a 10-minute audio recording of him that sparked a firestorm in the league and beyond.
In the recording, Sterling is heard chastising his girlfriend for associating with black people and bringing black people to Clippers games.
The response was swift and fierce in the NBA, a league in which the majority of players are black.
The affair resonated outside of sports in a country that continues to grapple with racial issues.
Almost 20 sponsors severed or suspended ties with the team, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was widely applauded for his tough stance.
On Friday, the NBA named Richard Parsons, the former chairman of media giant Time Warner and Citigroup, as interim chief executive of the Clippers as the league pursues efforts to oust Sterling.
Such a move would require the approval of 75 percent of the other 29 team owners.
Although it's thought the Clippers would sell for upwards of $600 million, Sterling's past history of litigation has prompted speculation that he would resist selling in what could be a bitter legal battle.
In his interview with CNN, Sterling did not take a combative stance, but the longest-tenured owner in the NBA – he bought the Clippers for $12 million in 1981 – made it clear he wants to stay in the league.
“I'm a good member who made a mistake and I'm apologising and I'm asking for forgiveness,” Sterling said.
“Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake, and I'll never do it again.”
However, the scandal has prompted scrutiny of past accusations that Sterling discriminated against black, Hispanic and Korean tenants at some of his rental properties.
Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, was a co-defendant in two lawsuits that alleged discrimination, and the future of the Clippers is further clouded by her stated determination to maintain her ownership stake in the team.
In an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters airing on Sunday night, Shelly Sterling says she will “absolutely” fight to keep her stake in the team.
However, NBA spokesman Mike Bass responded with a statement outlining the league's position that her ownership interest would be terminated along with her husband's.
“Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner's interest is terminated by a 3/4 vote, all other team owners' interests are automatically terminated as well,” Bass said.
“It doesn't matter whether the owners are related as is the case here.
“These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team.”
Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers is just one NBA figure who has said it would be better if neither of the Sterlings have an ownership role with the team.
Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, attending the Clippers' home playoff game against Oklahoma City, said players wouldn't play for Shelly Sterling.
“The players definitely wouldn't like it, everybody would boycott,” Johnson told an ABC television interviewer. – Sapa-AFP