Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner made a surprise appearance at an African-American church congregation in south Los Angeles on Sunday, drawing mixed reactions from attendees.
Sterling attended a service at Praises of Zion Baptist Church with a group of his bodyguards, CBS Los Angeles reports. The church’s Senior Pastor, J. Benjamin Harwick, introduced the 80-year-old to his congregation.
“Stand up brother Sterling, we’re going to give you a round of applause,” Harwick said, according to CBS Los Angeles.
Harwick reportedly told a CBS reporter off-camera that the church had nothing to do with Sterling’s visit. “[Pastor Harwick] didn’t invite him. Sterling, we did not call Sterling. As members of Praises, Sterling came to us, asked our pastor, we took a vote on it,” Muki, a church member, told the network.
“We’re not forgetting what he said but as children of God we are forgiving,” she said.
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While some members of the church chose to forgive Sterling, others refused to remain in his presence. According to TMZ, at least one regular churchgoer chose to leave Sunday’s services as soon as Sterling entered the building.
Sterling’s appearance at Praises of Zion Baptist Church came just weeks after he received a lifetime ban and $2.5 million from the NBA after racist comments he made during a phone conversation with a female companion were leaked to the public. During the phone call, Sterling chastised the woman, V. Stiviano, for posing for photographs with NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and made disparaging remarks about African-Americans in general.
Sources linked to Sterling told TMZ that his visit to the church was planned days in advance of Shelly Sterling’s announcement that she had agreed to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, pending league approval.
A video of Sterling’s exit from Sunday services at Praises of Zion Baptist Church can be viewed below, courtesy of TMZ.