Royce White is crazy, and not the fun chocolate cereal kind either. If you haven’t heard about the standout college basketball star from Iowa State that was drafted 16th overall by the Houston Rockets then there is probably a good reason. He hasn’t dribbled, shot, rebounded or passed a basketball on an NBA court yet. The reason is simple; he is scared of what will happen to him.
Royce White has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that has kept him from playing basketball for the Houston Rockets this season. Why? That isn’t such an easy question to answer. Physically White is fine. And he has said that one of the only places that he feels anxiety free is on the basketball court. He does have a fear of flying but, the Rockets have rented an RV and hired two drivers to drive him to as many road games as possible. On top of that, he was able to fly around the country last year playing for Iowa State.
Needless to say the Rockets are stumped. Grantland.com (the ESPN and Bill Simmons vehicle) followed and filmed Royce White on draft day for their YouTube channel. The documentary style video shows that almost every team passed on White despite being touted as a top 5 talent in the draft. The Rockets, a team with 3 first round draft picks, were willing to take a chance on the kid with documented mental health problems. However, the Rockets had an ace in the hole. Iowa State’s head coach, Fred Hoiberg, played in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves for current Rocket’s head coach Kevin McHale. That’s called having inside information. It was reported that Hoiberg vouched for White and that was good enough for the Rockets. There is a good chance that if the Rockets hadn’t picked White then he would have fallen out of the first round. It didn’t appear that any other team wanted to take the chance on him.
The summer following the draft was great. The Rockets sent a bunch of rookies to Las Vegas to play in the NBA summer league and Kevin McHale and Rockets General Manger Daryl Morey looked pretty smart. Royce White showed that his unique basketball skills translated to the NBA perfectly. As an oversized small forward or quicker more athletic power forward, White showed flashes of brilliance. He ran the floor well; he could score or find a man for an easy layup. His court vision was the best on the team. On multiple occasions he made full court bounce passes to find teammates in stride for an easy layup. All was good.
Things took a turn when training was set to start in September. When the team reported to Austin to get to work White was a no show. This wasn’t a contract negotiation, White was under contract. The reports from the Rockets were that Royce wasn’t happy with the “lack of plan” the Rockets had in place for dealing with his mental health. The Rockets, eager to get White in camp, agreed to work with him to meet his needs. At that point the RV and driver plan was put into place. The Rockets agreed to do everything they could to have White driven to as many games as possible in order to combat Whites Anxiety Disorder that can be triggered by flying. White reported to camp a week late but a few games into the season White went MIA again.
The Rockets attempted to work with him over the next couple of months to try and resolve the issue. In December it was reported that everything was worked out and White would begin working out with Rocket’s staff. These workouts were scheduled to start on December 20th but by December 26 there still had been no sign of White. On December 29th the Rockets assigned White to their NBA D-league team the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. On December 30th White refused to show up and issued a statement. Essentially, White felt that the Rockets were being misleading with their attempts to manage his disorder. After many attempts to continue to work with White the Rockets were forced to suspend him without pay on January 6th for failing to perform his contract. Yes, the Rockets had been paying every cent of his 1.6 million dollar contract to that point.
I realize that things are never as black and white as they seem. Many fans are enraged at Royce White for the way that he has handled this, particularly on Twitter. White routinely goes on rants that are very cryptic about the way he is being misled or mistreated by the Rockets organization. However, for every 10 Rockets fans that are upset there is 1 that thanks White for his bravery in dealing with his anxiety disorder. White said on HBO’s “Real Sports” that if he ignored his disorder and played for the Rockets under the current guidelines he would be concerned about being susceptible to “alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, suicidal thoughts or homicidal thoughts”. Needless to say, he is not willing to subject himself to the possibility of these concerns.
The deal breaker for the Rockets is a clause in a mental health plan that White has submitted to the team. The clause states that White should have an outside Mental Health Physician give the Rockets a go or no go on Whites’ availability on a daily basis. In other words, White wants someone to tell the Rockets if and when White can play in a game or practice. For obvious reasons, this is difficult for the Rockets to comply with. NBA teams have a hard time conceding control of their multimillion dollar employees to outside influence. Keep in mind; the Rockets have a full medical staff that is dedicated to the current and future health of their players.
So where do they go from here? The reality is that Kevin McHale rarely gives rookies significant playing time so there may be little for fans to get so upset about. The truth is that this season is pretty much gone for White. He has gone as far as to say that he is only practicing once a week and that only involves shooting baskets. The reason this has become somewhat of a media fiasco is that there isn’t a clear winner. No one can determine who is right?
Who is Right?
Chuck Klosterman from Grantland.com interviewed Royce White for 90 minutes and he came up with the most accurate descriptive term that fits what I see as the problem with this ordeal. He called White a really smart 9th grader. Imagine if an NBA team was handcuffed by the emotional ebbs and flows of a 9th grade boy. You might see ridiculous requests or unpredictable and unreliable behavior. From the outside looking in that seems to be what is taking place in the Rockets organization.
On the other hand, Royce White has been diagnosed by a Doctor as having a legitimate disorder and the Rockets have taken it upon themselves to deal with it. They have attempted to meet Whites needs but at this point he is still unsatisfied. In the Rockets defense this is completely unchartered territory, not only in the NBA, but all professional sports. With the link of concussions leading to brain damage in the NFL, mental illness is in the spotlight right now and the Rockets and White are at the forefront.
On Tuesday Royce White played his first game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He had 7 points 8 rebounds and 4 assists. He has passed his physical and is ready to start earning a paycheck again and the Rockets are happy to get him back. Today everything is great and maybe from here on out all will be peachy. Will this just be a speed bump on the road to a hall of fame career for Royce White? We will see … as soon as he plays some freaking NBA basketball!