NBA players didn’t protest Donald Sterling until his racism was directed at one of their own

But as league observers parse out blame for the first public relations crisis of Silver’s tenure, another group deserves some: NBA players. Although the recording is potentially the first inconvertible audio proof that Sterling is a dunderhead racist, many players were aware of his wrongheaded views.

Yet there wasn’t much uproar following Sterling’s sworn testimony in a 2002 housing discrimination case, during which the NBA’s longest-tenured owner said African Americans “smell and aren’t clean.” Throughout the years, high-profile players refused to challenge owners on their lack of action against Sterling, unwilling to risk their celebrity status and multimillion-dollar endorsement deals.

The fact they didn’t, at least not en masse, contributed to this mess. So what is different about this case that makes many players express outrage now? It’s obvious: Sterling allegedly attacked one of their own.