Basketball great Earvin "Magic" Johnson shrugged off the latest character assault leveled at him by Donald Sterling, calling the Los Angeles Clippers owner "delusional" and suggesting Sterling acted out of desperation to keep the NBA from seizing his team.
"He's reaching. He's trying to find something that he can grab on to help him save his team, and it's not going to happen," Johnson told CNN on Tuesday, a day after Sterling accused him of being a poor role model for children and of doing little to help the black community.
Sterling's comments about Johnson, one of the most revered figures in US sports, left many scratching their heads. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement apologizing to Johnson for being "degraded by such a malicious and personal attack."
Sterling's CNN interview on Monday marked his first public comment since coming under fire nearly three weeks ago, when TMZ.com posted an audio recording of him berating a female friend for publicly associating with black people, including Magic Johnson.
The resulting furor led Silver days later to declare Sterling banned for life from the National Basketball Association, and to call on the 29 other team owners who make up the NBA Board of Governors to strip Sterling of team ownership.
Such an unprecedented move requires a three-fourths' vote of the board. It remains to be seen whether Silver will muster the votes he needs, and whether Sterling will give up the team he has owned for 33 years without fighting back in court.
In his CNN interview that aired on Monday, Sterling, 80, apologized for racist comments that he claimed he was "baited" into making by the 31-year-old woman who recorded the conversation, who uses the name V. Stiviano.