Donald Sterling scandal: Magic Johnson would rather own Lakers than Clippers

Instead of offering apologies to Magic Johnson for making racially disparaging remarks about him, Donald Sterling threw some more verbal grenades.

On an appearance with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the Clippers’ embattled owner threw out unsubstantiated charges that Magic Johnson fails to help minorities. Sterling criticized Johnson for contracting the HIV virus stemmed from previous infidelities that forced his initial retirement in 1991. Sterling downplayed Johnson’s role in bolstering funds through his foundation for AIDS and HIV awareness through education, treatment and research.

Underneath Sterling’s unprompted attacks on the Lakers’ legend reveals his belief that Johnson has tried leaving him out to try dry so he could position himself to purchase the Clippers.

“He just said: “’Wait. Be patient,’” Sterling said on CNN when describing his attempt to apologize. “‘I will help you. We will — we will work it out. I think he wanted me just to do nothing, so he could buy the team.”

No doubt, Johnson has expressed interest in the Clippers whenever it is put up for sale. But Johnson laughed off Sterling’s assertion, saying he has much more preference in owning a franchise where he once won five NBA championships instead of its crosstown rival.

“This notion that I want his team? If I was going to trick somebody, deceive somebody, be dishonest to somebody, steal somebody’s franchise, it is going to be the Los Angeles Lakers,” Johnson said on Anderson Cooper 360.° Let’s make that clear right now. It won’t be the L.A. Clippers.”

Johnson sold his 4.5-percent ownership stake with the Lakers in 2010 and remains an unpaid vice president. He then became part of Guggenheim Partners, the investment group that bought the Dodgers in 2012. In February, Johnson’s ownership group also purchased the WNBA’s Sparks.

But Johnson would not be able to purchase the Lakers given the current ownership structure.

The late Lakers owner Jerry Buss set up a trust that is run by her children, Jeanie, Jim and Johnny Buss. Jeanie is the team’s president and oversees business operations. Jim runs basketball operations. Johnny holds the title as the team’s executive vice president of strategic development.

Among those who have membership stakes in the Lakers are AEG Chairman Philip Anschutz (27 percent), Patrick Soon-Shiong (four percent) and Ed Roski (three percent). But the Lakers could only be sold through their two-thirds entity.

“It is not about owning a team. Now, what I want — really would want to do is own the Lakers. If any team I want to really have or be a part of would be the Lakers, not the Clippers,” Johnson said. “But, if I can’t be a part of them, and there is a team out there like the Clippers that I like and my partners like.”

Still, Johnson estimated that will not unfold anytime soon.

Though NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued Sterling a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine for making racially insensitive remarks on an audio tape, the Board of Governors still needs to formally vote a 3/4 majority to force Sterling to sell the team. That vote is expected to happen, but the NBA is anticipating Sterling dragging the case through litigation, which would subsequently halt potential ownership groups from buying the team.

“That’s going to be eight months to a year to see if it ever hits the market,” Johnson said. But, for me, if it comes out, and it’s for sale, and my Guggenheim Partners and I say, OK, we want to take a look at it and we want to buy it, of course we will make a run for it.”

But Johnson maintains he will not do that by misleading people, such as Sterling’s claim that Johnson encouraged him to stay silent on the issue. Instead, Johnson contends he refused Sterling’s offer to appear in a joint interview with journalist Barbara Walters. Johnson then said he refused to field additional phone calls from Sterling and told him to handle the matter with his attorneys.

“Look, I’m a respectable guy. I’m a guy who has worked hard to put myself in this position. I am not going to do anything bad to ruin that. I can’t look my kids in the face and say, hey, I’m a thief. I’m a guy who backstabs people to get to where they want to get to. I don’t do that,” Johnson said. “You go and ask Howard Schultz of Starbucks, you go and ask all my partners, you go and ask the African-American community, the Latino community. All the work I have done, I never deceived anybody. I never tricked anybody. And I would never do that to gain wealth for myself or popularity for myself or whatever the case may be.”

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Full transcript: Magic Johnson responds to Donald Sterling in CNN interview

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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