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NBA Owner Under Fire for Alleged Rant; Obama: Russia Encouraging Tension in Ukraine; Two Popes Canonized Today in Vatican City

Aired April 27, 2014 - 07:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: On the firestorm surrounding Donald Sterling, all the way in Malaysia. Donald Sterling, if you don't know, he's the owner of one of the league's top teams, the L.A. Clippers.

Sterling is dominating headlines this morning. He's accused of making racist remarks.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: This conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend all caught on tape and apparently sparked by a photo of that girlfriend with Magic Johnson that she posted on Instagram.

Please let me forewarn you here, it's morning and I know you've got kids in the room perhaps, some of the language here is certainly offensive. We tried to clean it up as best we can. But here we go.


GIRLFRIEND: I saw someone I admire. I admire Magic Johnson.


GIRLFRIEND: I'm sorry.


GIRLFRIEND: He's made a lot of changes for his committee, for the world, for the people, for the minorities. He's helped a lot of people.

STERLING: Why are you forcing this down my throat? I'm finished talking here. I have nothing more to say.

GIRLFRIEND: And I took a picture with someone I admire.


GIRLFRIEND: He happens to be black, and I'm sorry.

STERLING: I think that's nice that you admire him. I've known him well and he should be admired. And I'm just saying that it's too bad you can't admire him privately, and during your entire (EXPLETIVE DELETED) life, your whole life admire him, bring him here, food him, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) him, I don't care. You can do anything. But don't put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games. OK?


BLACKWELL: Well, that recording, which was made public by TMZ is sparking not only reaction from the sports world but as we told you at the top of the show from the president. He had this to say during the Malaysia stop of his Asia tour.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything. You just let them talk, and that's what happened here.


PAUL: Magic Johnson, you know, the subject of part of Sterling's rant anyway is airing his thoughts on Twitter, calling the remarks, quote, "a black eye for the NBA," and adding, quote, "My wife and I will never go to a Clippers game against as long as Donald Sterling is the owner," unquote.

BLACKWELL: We're also hearing from NBA Hall of Famer and TNT Sports host Charles Barkley who says NBA Commissioner Adam Silver must take swift action regarding sterling.


CHARLES BARKLEY, NBA HALL OF FAMER: This is the first test of Adam Silver. He's got to suspend him right now.


BLACKWELL: Joining us now from Oakland, California, is CNN's Dan Simon.

PAUL: Dan, good to see you this morning.

So, Charles Barkley, even some current NBA players I know saying Sterling needs to go. What is the NBA saying this morning?


Boy, has this story blown up quickly. First, let me tell you where I am. We're in front of Oracle Arena in Oakland. That's where game four is going to be played today between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, and I tell you what. Some have called for the Clippers to even boycott this game but the head coach of the Warriors, of the Clippers rather says that is not going to happen, that the idea was discussed in the locker room but it was dismissed, that they're going to play their hearts out today.

But reaction is coming in fast and furiously, as this story really has spread like wildfire across the Internet.

The NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who just came into that post a few months ago said that the league is going to do a couple things. First, it wants to authenticate the tape. And number two, he wants to see the context in which the offensive comments were made. Take a look.


LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER: It's unacceptable, and you know, as a commissioner of our league, you have to make a stand and you have to be aggressive with it.


SIMON: Silver cautioned that Sterling must be afforded due process and that the investigation is going to move very, very quickly, and that's really going to need to happen, Christi and Victor, because you're looking at a major uproar here among NBA players.

BLACKWELL: You know, we heard from LeBron James, and he said there's no room for Donald Sterling in the league. We also heard yesterday from Doc Rivers who is the coach of the L.A. Clippers and he walked a bit of a line, Dan, in I guess condemning the comments but also trying to keep the focus on the team and the game.

SIMON: Absolutely. You know, that's really going to be the key here, that they want sort of the protest to be in the play.

You talked about LeBron James because of his stature in the NBA his words carry a lot of weight. Let's listen to what LeBron had to say.


JAMES: It's unacceptable, and you know, as a commissioner of our league, you have to make a stand and you have to be aggressive with it.


SIMON: Well, Chris Paul, Chris Paul, who is the president of the NBA Players Association, said the following, we have an on screen quote for you, "On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue, which we will address aggressively. We have asked Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand his responsibilities with the NBPA to determine our response and next steps. As players we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and a drive to the finals."

Now, we're also hearing, guys, from the president of the Clippers, Andy Roeser, who said, didn't know if the tape was legitimate but said the woman on the tape who he believes gave it to TMZ is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would get even. He doesn't name the woman but of course we're talking about the woman at the center of all this, V Stiviano.

As we like to say in this business this story has some legs and it will be pretty interesting to see what happens at the game today if there's going to be some type of symbolic protest at the beginning of the game between the players, will they come together, will they wear arm bands? It's going to be really interesting to see, guys.

PAUL: Dan Simon, thank you very much. He brings up a good point. You can't ignore this when you go to the game.

Jason Johnson is joining us now.

What do you think they do out of the gate?

JASON JOHNSON, HIRAM COLLEGE: The players are going to try to concentrate on the game but the happy person is Mark Jackson. He's the coach of the Golden State Warriors. Because he's though, oh my gosh, he's telling his players this isn't just for you but for everybody else in the league who is mad, you're going to put the Clippers down today.

I mean, I think there's going to be a lot of symbolism on the part of the Golden State Warriors, and the Clippers are going to try and make it through the game.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about some of the comments. There are some who find it difficult to understand how Don Sterling can both say that he admires Magic Johnson but also have these comments about having him at the games, being with him in public, and something as simple as walking with black people.

JOHNSON: Right, right, or the fact that he's having sex with a woman who is half black.

Look, this is how racism works. It's never made any sense. Whether you go back with "12 Years of Slave", you can hate black people and still want to have sex with them. You can hate people in Vietnam and still want to have -- this is the complexity and the sickness than is modern racism.

It's never changed. It probably will not evolve and as he said, and I think this is really important is he talks about in this tape, he said it's like talking to the enemy. He said, people think you're a nice white girl. You shouldn't be doing like this.

So, this runs deeper than his own bigotry. He's speaking for a generation.

PAUL: Yes, when we talk about sterling you think, OK, he's an owner. He is the purse strings of this organization.

How do you punish the purse strings without punishing everybody else? What are the options here? JOHNSON: The options are very clear. This is a club. You don't have a right to own an NBA team. It's as much a privilege. There's only 32 in the world, it's as much a privilege to own as it is to play.

And there are ways that if the commissioner gets up off his dock and takes some real authority here, he can say, look, you've damaged the brand, you've damaged the league and consequently I think we have to look at your rights to own this team, just like any player who would embarrass the league, if an owner embarrasses the league, he should step in and say, look, maybe you're not responsible enough to have this anymore.

BLACKWELL: But what is the likelihood of that considering the other owners wouldn't enjoy this precedent?

JOHNSON: I don't think the other owners would enjoy it, but there are some ways that you can remove someone. They can say, look, we don't want you in day to day operations, they can say you can't come to games anymore under any circumstances. They can say, look, you're getting sued by so many different people you have already damaged the league enough. We just want to offer you a buy-out.

I think that's a possibility. The number of lawsuits likely coming out of this from staff people and members waiting to be exposed are going to be huge. Adam Silver does not want this dragging on to June in the finals.

BLACKWELL: What do we know about how this tape that surfaced and the background of this relationship with this woman? I mean, he's still married and was it really payback from her?

JOHNSON: I think it might be. This is what I think is key about this. TMZ is a lot of things but don't get sued a lot. They would not release this tape if they hadn't already authenticated it because it would be incredibly dangerous to say that this is Donald Sterling if they didn't know.

So, I think they know it's legitimate. I listened to the tape several times. I have a feeling there's probably more to it. It doesn't like they're at the end of it. So, I think it's pretty clear that it's him. I think they know it's him and I think that right now the league is just trying to figure out what they to do legally. But I think we can probably trust this is Donald Sterling.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the side bar issue, the NAACP, L.A. branch honoring him with a lifetime achievement award.

PAUL: A little ironic at the moment.

BLACKWELL: And the timing could not be worse for the NAACP, not better for Don Sterling.

JOHNSON: Right. Well, I think this is what happens when you give a bunch of tickets to poor kids in the inner city. It sounds terrible but pretty much what he's done. Look, he's a rich guy and he's a philanthropist. And this is what we're talking about in the beginning of the complexity of racism. You can hire black people and still hate them. You can hire women and still hate them. This is Paula Deen, so many other examples where people have these dual identities.

So, I'm not surprised the NAACP was about to give him an award. They'd be dumb to do so now. But, you know, we'll see if they listen to the rest of the cries from the country.

BLACKWELL: I can't imagine how they could go through with it.

JOHNSON: Not at this point.

PAUL: If they do, you know we'll be talking about it here. Good heavens!

BLACKWELL: Certainly will be.

PAUL: Jason Johnson, so good to have you here. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Still to come on NEW DAY, the situation in Ukraine. I mean, this is getting worse by the day. Even after that Geneva agreement didn't seem like anybody held up their end of the bargain, as Moscow accuses Kiev of sending troops and tanks to Eastern Ukraine. So, is Kiev getting ready to crack down on the pro-Russian separatists in the region?

PAUL: Plus, the Catholic faithful celebrating two new saints today. We're going to take you live to Rome, as millions have gathered for this historic occasion.



OBAMA: Russia has not lifted a finger to help. In fact, there's strong evidence that they have encouraging the kinds of activities that have been taking place.


BLACKWELL: That's President Obama, his comments from Malaysia overnight. The president said the world is united against Russia in its actions there in Ukraine.

The tension between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, this is heating up. Russian state news is claiming Kiev mobilized 15,000 troops in the suburbs of Slaviansk to, quote, "wipe out the city and its residents."

PAUL: Frightening. On Russia's side of the border, there are 40,000 troops conducting military exercises. This is according to Moscow. Now, meanwhile, a group of European observers are in the hands of pro-Russian gunmen.

I want to bring in retired U.S. Army General James "Spider" Marks.

Thank you for being with us.


PAUL: In this situation, do you see any way to avoid some sort of military confrontation?

MARKS: Well, Christi, the military confrontation is already taking place. Kiev has an obligation to maintain peace, order, control, in all of its sovereign territory and Slaviansk and Donetsk, and eastern Ukraine certainly is a part of it. That's not challenged internationally. Russia is instigating this.

And the president is absolutely correct. I challenge him at one point. Putin is raising a finger and he's raising a finger to instigate the violence and the chaos that you see in east Ukraine. Clearly, Putin and the government in Kiev, Moscow and Kiev should be able to talk, because it appears right now that they have a coalescing of the same objective, both want some form of stability.

Putin doesn't want to see this thing spin out of control. His concern is for Russian, ethnic Russians in east Ukraine. And the Kiev government certainly wants to maintain order in its country and within its borders.

So you'd think there might be some degree of an agreement. Clearly, that's not the case right now.

BLACKWELL: General, you said that this already, military confrontation. My question pulls the string of with whom and which country? If we take into context the buzzing of U.S. ships, the flying Russian jets flying into U.S. air space. Is Putin looking specifically for a military confrontation with the U.S., not just Ukraine?

MARKS: Well, the Russians didn't do anything about U.S. air space. What they did is overflied a naval. They have penetrated Ukrainian air space, Victor. So, it is very provocative, absolutely. These are clear indications of tension being ratcheted up.

But again, Russia has already invaded Ukraine, they annexed Crimea, which is a part of Ukraine. So we've got to take that discussion of trying to find our way around the edges on this thing and tighten it up and say, look, the Russians have invaded Ukraine, they've annexed Crimea. There is instigation that's taking place in east Ukraine, and clearly Putin doesn't gain if this thing completely spins out of control and he has the responsibility to try to clean up the mess in east Ukraine.

I would anticipate that the forces that are north of Ukraine, the Russian forces that are north of Ukraine right now really is the strategic provocative action that's taking place right now. Clearly, Putin has the authority to exercise his own forces in his own country, but the message that he's sending Ukraine and the rest of the world is, look, I mean business here.

But I tell you, Russian history tells you that they like instability on their borders, as long as they can control that instability and know what the outcome is. Makes it more difficult to threaten Russia and Moscow. In this case, Putin's concerned that he can't control what's taking place in Ukraine, so he's keeping the forces there to ensure that if it spins out of control to, in his view, he can react.

BLACKWELL: All right. General Spider Marks, thank you so much.

MARKS: Thank you, folks.

PAUL: Thank you.

So, new this morning, listen to this, after all of the criticisms of the Malaysian government over the handling of flight 370, President Obama is defending them.

BLACKWELL: Earlier today at a joint news conference, Mr. Obama said he believes the Malaysian government has been forthcoming with information to the U.S. he also vowed to provide more assistance and support to the search.

PAUL: Meanwhile the high-tech underwater robot the Bluefin-21 scouring the ocean floor right now. We've learned it's the robot's 15th mission. So far not a single piece of debris has been found.

BLACKWELL: Above the surface, the sea and air search have been suspended because of bad weather in the area.

PAUL: All right. We want to take you to an unprecedented event in Vatican City today. Two new saints welcomed into the church by two living popes. This is history.

BLACKWELL: It is indeed. We're going to take you live to Vatican City as millions gather to celebrate this historic canonization.


JOHN KING, CNN'S INSIDE POLITICS: Coming up on "INSIDE POLITICS", should age be a factor in the Hillary Clinton White House run? Some of the right now are suggesting the former secretary of state is too old to be president.

Also, what is behind House Speaker John Boehner poking fun at his fellow Republicans on immigration?

Plenty to break down this Sunday morning. Join us on "INSIDE POLITICS"?

BLACKWELL: Sure will.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King it airs this morning at 8:30 on CNN. PAUL: And as we say good morning to you, we say good afternoon to Vatican City. Take a look here. I know the ticker is covering it up a little bit there but millions of people made the pilgrimage there today for the canonization.

BLACKWELL: Huge crowd.

PAUL: Installing Pope John XXIII and John Paul II. Our Vatican analyst John Allen described the move there as Catholic Mardi gras on steroids. That's great.

BLACKWELL: You know, Pope Francis got right into the middle of the celebration. Look here. This is the pope mobile riding into the crowd, greeting the faithful who gather to witness the pope's canonization, and Pope Francis appears to really enjoy this, reaching out occasionally, touching people, holding hands, accepting things that they passed to him.

PAUL: He was criticized at one point for not wanting to be in anything that was covered.


PAUL: For his own safety, he must, but he loves so much that touching and hugging and I'm here and I'm accessible to you kind of thing.

And let's get more on what's happening there with Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher. In fact, she's live just outside of Vatican City.

BLACKWELL: So, what was the scene as the pope rode through the crowds, Delia?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: What a thrill, Victor and Christi. The crowds here, you have to understand have been here since yesterday, sleeping in sleeping bags out under the stars on the hard cobblestones of St. Peter's and I think everybody was really hoping that Pope Francis would be able to come all the way down and let everybody get a close glimpse of him which they do when he's in the pope mobile.

And, indeed, he did do that. I think as a sign of recognition these people that had come from so far, flights from all nations of the word -- of course, the largest contingency from Poland, last night when they were all here singing songs, a group of marathoners from Poland arrived and they had run from Poland to Rome. So that will tell you the extent of the devotion of these people both for the two pope saints but also for Pope Francis.

So, it was a really special moment when he was able to come down and really greet the crowds. He got down from the pope mobile, waved to those people who were on the bridges he couldn't access. Nice ending to what has been a very exciting and unique moment.

PAUL: With all the flags flying and you can hear the people buzzing behind you get a good sense of it. What else is on the agenda for Pope Francis today?

GALLAGHER: Oh, well, my goodness, today, he's had a very busy morning, had to meet all of the dignitaries that came to celebrate with him and obviously tomorrow then he will start with another mass of Thanksgiving for this mass, that is a tradition also with canonizations that you give a mass in thanksgiving for these new saints.

PAUL: All righty, Delia Gallagher, we so appreciate you being there for us and walking us through it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: And we'll see you back here at the top of the hour, 8:00 Eastern for more of NEW DAY.

PAUL: "SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." starts after a quick break, though. Stay close.