"Am I upset? Of course," Johnson said during the interview, which aired Tuesday night on CNN. "But at the same time, I’m a God-fearing man and I’m going to pray for him and hope things work out for him."
Johnson's comments came as the NBA is trying to force Sterling to sell the Clippers in the wake of earlier racist remarks he made that surfaced last month. In those remarks, which sparked a national uproar when a recording of them was published by TMZ, Sterling criticized his then-girlfriend for publicly associating with black people, including Johnson. The recording, on which Sterling can be heard chastising her “not to bring [black people] to my games” and for for taking a since-deleted Instagram picture with Johnson, prompted the NBA to ban Sterling for life.
"I was in disbelief that he would say these things and then throw me into the situation," Johnson said. "I don't know the young lady. I barely know Donald. Now I'm caught in the middle of this love or affair or whatever they have."
In what was supposed to be an apology interview that aired Monday night, Sterling strangely struck out at Johnson again, a beloved figure in basketball circles, criticizing him for contracting HIV and not doing enough to help the black community.
"Well what kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV, is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about?" Sterling said. "I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go in the background. But what does he do for the black people? He doesn’t do anything."
Johnson said he felt compelled to answer: "I am one of the leaders of the black community. So I can’t let someone attack me and not respond."
Johnson, who is part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and has been floated as a possible Clippers owner should the league succeed in forcing a sale, said he spoke with Sterling after the tape first surfaced, but stopped communicating with him after Sterling refused to apologize. "He asked me to go on the Barbara Walters show with him," Johnson said. "I told him I wouldn’t do it. I told him the number one thing you need to do which you haven’t done is apologize to everyone.
"I was expecting an apology," Johnson added. "The American public expected an apology."
During the interview, Cooper replayed some of Sterling's comments about Johnson, in which Sterling said Johnson had AIDS and "should be ashamed of himself " (Johnson does not have AIDS, but is HIV-positive).
"I just feel sorry for him," Johnson said. "I really do. It's sad."
When asked whether he wants to buy the Clippers, Johnson said that while he and his business partners would likely make a bid if Sterling is forced to sell, the team he really wants to own is the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was a Hall of Fame point guard.
"Just take the money [from the sale of the Clippers], go and enjoy your life," Johnson advised Sterling. "You're fighting a battle you can't win."