Cooper stressed in the middle of his exclusive interview with Sterling — the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers — that he would not have continued the session with the octogenarian billionaire if, as his wife Shelly suggested to Barbara Walters, he was suffering from dementia.
Still, as Cooper noted, he is not an authority on dementia. And while Sterling seemed to be in enough possession of his faculties to sit through such an experience, his erratic, strange performance — one that will be studied in crisis public-relations classes for years to come — certainly gave the impression of somebody who was not mentally clicking on all cylinders.
As Cooper made clear (and good for him for mentioning this part), Sterling met with him without handlers or attorneys to protect him. That turned out to be a huge miscalculation, as Sterling kept digging the hole he was in deeper and deeper, until some of those sitting through the hour had to come away feeling almost sorry for him, if not for what he had to say.
Sterling lashed out at various parties — perhaps foremost former Los Angeles Laker-turned-entrepreneur, businessman and NBA analyst Magic Johnson, who has been outspoken regarding the racist comments made by Sterling that became public when a recording was leaked. He also blamed the media, insisting that Clippers players and others who have pushed for his ouster really love him.
Sterling was most pathetic talking about the woman at the center of the story, V. Stiviano, referring to her as “the girl” time and again, and muttering about how foolish he was to have thought she might have cared for him, given their 50-year age difference. Yet given Sterling’s history of fiduciary relationships with women, it’s hard to see how this could have surprised him.
Like any news organization presented with this kind of gift — one that will be replayed, much like the original audio, for days on end — CNN quickly moved to milk the exclusive for all it’s worth. Yet if restraint isn’t in the cards for his network, Cooper handled his role deftly, realizing that the damning nature of Sterling’s remarks didn’t require a grilling; an arched eyebrow was enough.
As for Sterling, ultimately he appeared intent on speaking to one constituency: other NBA owners, who control the future of his Clippers ownership stake — after he was banned for life by commissioner Adam Silver — and will vote on his status.
Even if the decision goes against him, Sterling still has the resources to bog down this process via litigation, in a way that could test what really constitutes a “lifetime” ban for a man in his 80s.
“What this was to PR, the Hindenburg was to blimps,” Bill Weir quipped to Cooper during CNN’s post-interview analysis.
As noted, Sterling’s fate vis-a-vis the Clippers might still wind up in the courts. But in the court of public opinion, his misguided attempt at damage control was a one-sided blowout. And unlike his team, which rallied from a huge deficit to win on Sunday, Sterling has no chance of coming back from that.