Emmy-winning sportscaster Jim Gray wasted no time before asking NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson about the sensation caused by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s recent hateful racist remarks. The two men spoke Wednesday as part of the Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills.
Johnson playfully recoiled then declared, “Racism has no place in this society.”
Johnson addressed a crowd of more than 500 business, technology and philanthropic types gathered in the Beverly Hilton ballroom for a lunch panel on the business of sports, along with co-panelists Brian France, CEO of NASCAR, South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe and Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Johnson, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, found himself uniquely implicated in Sterling’s tirade after Sterling’s girlfriend V. Stiviano posted a photo of herself and Johnson on Instagram. Sterling complained that it “bothered” him that Stiviano associated with black people and, amid various other racist comments, instructed her not to “promote” her associations with blacks on social media.
Upon learning of Sterling’s remarks, Johnson immediately called on the NBA to take serious action, even if that meant forcing Sterling to sell the Clippers team. “I had to make a stand not just for myself but for all minorities,” he said.
In addition to the racial insult, Johnson said he was also personally hurt by Sterling’s vitriol. “It’s blown my mind,” he said. “Donald Sterling was the first person I met when I came to L.A.”
When Johnson first began playing basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers, he said, Sterling invited him to a party at his Malibu beach house for an annual event that moderator Gray recognized, ironically, was known as “The White Party.” Gray said he remembered one year when Sterling admonished him for showing up with a red pinstripe on his suit.
Despite the hurt, Johnson said he was heartened when the Clippers players threw their warm-up jackets down midcourt and threatened to boycott the games until Sterling was punished. Gray said he was with the team when they met with Rev. Jesse Jackson earlier this week, and had asked Jackson for his thoughts on the ordeal. “I’ll never forget what he said,” Gray recalled, “that these men chose dignity over dollars.”
“This was much bigger than a basketball game or [even] the NBA,” Johnson agreed. “This was a worldwide issue, a society issue.”
In the end, Johnson said, he was deeply heartened by the country’s single-minded response to the display of racial intolerance.
“I’m happy to see America band together,” Johnson said.