This Thursday night from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY on ESPN, 60 of the most talented collegiate and international basketball players will realize their dream of being drafted into the NBA. All their hard work and perseverance will get have that once in a lifetime moment to hear their name called by National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver. That was the case for a cannot miss prospect out of Iowa State University and from Minneapolis, MN in 2012. While he heard his name called as the No. 16 overall pick six Junes back, these days this well-rounded player is playing professionally, but North of the Boarder in Canada because of what he believes is the NBA inability to deal with an issue that has been at the forefront in recent months.
In the 2012 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets selected forward Royce White with the No. 16 overall pick out of the Iowa State University.
White brought to the table the kind of skill set where he can score, rebound, and pass in such a way that it reminded those that watched basketball closely a resemblance to the likes of Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Larry Bird, in terms of skill set on the hardwood.
That unthinkable talent White had the Rockets hoped would make up for some troublesome health issues.
Leading up to the 2012 draft, White was tagged by as the “mystery pick” due to his NBA ready physique, point-forward skills, and his public disclosure of what was called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which was diagnosed during his one season with the Cyclones.
The 6’8’, 260-pound forward never missed a game during his collegiate career first with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers or with the Cyclones. While he never had any issues physically but was and still is by his own account “mentally ill.”
That illness unfortunately not only drove him out of “The Association,” but unthinkably out of the United States of America.
These days White plays in London. No, not the place with the big clock tower Big Ben in England, but in London Canada for the Lightning of the National Basketball League (NBL) for the equivalent of peanuts.
In his rookie season with the Lightning last, he authored four triple-doubles, including one in the playoffs and on May 11, 2017 was named the 2017 NBL Canada regular season Most Valuable Player.
This season he is the league’s leading scorer and on June 5, had 34 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists leading his Canadian squad to their third NBL Canada championship since the league was formed seven seasons ago.
When asked by HBO’s Real Sports Bernard Goldberg that if all it came down to is a player’s ability to just play on the hardwood that he would be in the NBA at this very moment, White’s response was, “There’s no doubt I can play in the NBA.”
Goldberg then asked if White if would want to play in the NBA, White said, “For sure I want to play.”
But when he followed by asking if he would ever get back, White’s response was, “well no.”
It is hard to believe that this is the same guy that 72 months ago was a star in the making. While his averages of 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and five assists on 53.4 percent from the field are not eye popping, this guy seemingly authored double-doubles with ease.
White’s game was incredible and so was the confidence he displayed when he was on the collegiate hardwood.
How confident of a player was White, one time in a game he said, “I am the best player in the country.”
Goldberg asked White in an interview with him for “Real Sports” in 2013 that did he really believe that at the time. White said that he knew that at that moment.
Fast forward to 2012 after being drafted by the Rockets, White refused to play for the team that goes by the mantra “Clutch City” in reference to the 1994 and 1995 back-to-back championship teams.
He spent a majority of his rookie season alone, secluded by himself in a gym shooting a ball.
On the surface, White seemed fine and functioning, but the issue was in his mind, a mental disorder. He had a history of panic attacks that were so serious that just playing basketball could lead to his death.
White’s counter to that was that he feels Rockets fans and the organization would not want to hear that the presumptive 2018 league MVP James Harden broke his ankle either.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD is a disease where he worries about all sorts of things like flying, which White very much does not like at all.
“The sweaty palms come. Faster heart beat comes.” White said to Goldberg are some of the things White has experienced when he has flown on a plane.
White who also said that he has thrown up before was getting nervous just when Goldberg even brought up the subject of planes. He went so far as to equate flying a plane to being 35,000 feet in the air in a steel death trap.
With the issue out of the bag, White solution that he gave the Rockets that someone needed to drive him to as many road games as possible, which he said he was entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
After a while the Rockets agreed, but just getting around in a car was not as simple a solution either.
White said that driving makes him uncomfortable because of the uncertainty. That there are a lot of people on the road. That in the age of texting and driving, White says that he worries that if he sees someone texting and driving is someone else on the road either behind him, in front or on his left or right is doing the same.
This is what made a lot of NBA general managers if they wanted to risk a First Round pick on a very talented player that has a lot of mental problems.
On the night of the 2012 draft, his agent in a telephone conversation said to him that the Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Oklahoma City wanted no part of White.
“Mental health is uncertain right now,” White said about why those teams passed on him. “It represents a lack of awareness and a presence of very serious, very detrimental stigma.”
Things were looking not too good for White until the Rockets took that leap of faith and selected White with the No. 16 pick.
Just a few months later though that joy disappeared because the league had no procedures in place to deal with mental illness and White demanded no team had ever heard.
White demanded the Rockets agree to a four-page list of rules, which was called a Mental Health Protocol, with the key prevision of known as Medical Point Person, where he could have an independent doctor.
That doctor, not the team doctor to have the final say on when White was healthy enough to play to play and when he was not.
“The only difference is you can’t see mine,” White said about the difference between a guy with a physical injury and the mental illness he has.
“Why does my worth have to be measured by how many rebounds I’ve clocked? If I’m saying something true, why does it need a rebound accompanied with it?”
Goldberg answered back because White is a basketball player, and his response was, “No. I’m a human being.”
While that is true, White is a talented player that is not in the NBA at this moment. He is not out on an NBA court this year dominating players like he did as a collegian. He is not putting himself in the conversation as one of the most talented all-around players in the league.
As mentioned earlier White played in all 34 games in his only season for the Cyclones. He even flew with his teammates for an exhibition game in Italy. That occurred because White said he trusted his coaches led by head coach Fred Hoiberg.
For White it comes down to this. He is a person who needs things to be predictable. That certain things will take place at a certain at all times with no implications of something going astray.
To bring this point into context, White showed Goldberg his closet where the hangers are up and spaced immaculately. His suites are facing the same way.
If you have not figured it out, along with GAD, White also suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCPD).
Besides his suites being neatly hung in his closet, Goldberg saw shoes properly placed in the closet where some of his Polo Ralph Lauren’s were neatly still in their respective boxes. His shirts were properly folded and places neatly and his dress hats were properly hung on the wall.
After several attempts to fix their standoff with White, the Rockets and GM Daryl Morey eventually sent him a letter saying that they “bent over backwards” trying to appease him and that nothing was working.
When White still refused to play for them unless he got that independent doctor the Rockets who declined to speak with “Real Sports” suspended him and ceased paying him his $3 million contract.
“If I was to play in the NBA now as it is without the protocols. Without the safety measures I would be risking my health. I would be risking my life,” White said.
He went on to say that a person who is not treated for their mental health issues are alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior. Those are things White said he is not willing to risk of playing in the NBA, and the fame, and money that comes with it.
Eventually the Rockets gave up on White and while he had other chances with the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers. One-by-one though, they too gave up on him.
The one team that gave him a chance came from the previously mention London Lightning of the NBL. He has fit in and has displayed the kind of ability that made him the unstoppable force that he was in college.
“I’m fortunate enough to play for a team whose owner views anxiety as very common,” White said to Goldberg on why he is flourishing both personally and professionally. “He doesn’t see supporting my condition as anything strenuous or overbearing.”
White went into more exemplified context of the support he gets from the Lightning front office by saying the owner does something very simple as having a conversation with him.
The ultimate reason White said that he and the Lightning have cliqued is because he trust their leadership just like he trusted the leadership in place at Iowa State, led by current Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg.
So much so that White who as mentioned earlier has a fear of flying flies with the team and says he played Game 6 of the NBL’s Championship series last season while undergoing a panic attack. White in that contest scored 34 points in leading the Lightning to the title.
While that was perhaps White’s highest moments with his team, there have been some low points.
During his two years in Canada, White has been suspended on six occasions for horrendous conduct on the hardwood from clotheslining an opponent in a game; pushing another opponent to the floor; and forearming one in the throat.
One particular moment got so bad that bodyguards had hold White back from an opponent that he wanted to have a piece of.
During this postseason for the NBL, White was hit with a 10-game suspension for arguing with the league’s deputy commissioner on the sideline.
“I’m physical and I’m passionate, and I have no regrets about that,” White said are the reasons for those moments he lost control.
When asked by Goldberg are you knocking people on their rear end because he is angry about not being in the NBA?
White’s answer, “I’d be knocking people on their [expletive] if I was in the NBA.”
“I saw a clip. I’m not sure when it was but Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony got tangled up. You know, shoved each other. Got in each other’s faces.”
The difference between the back-to-back Finals MVP of the Golden State Warriors and the perennial All-Star of the Oklahoma City Thunder is their mental health is intact.
White’s outbursts the past two seasons in the NBL has called into question his mental health, which he consistently sees through every prism.
The difference from when he was first introduced to the public six years ago and today is the NBA and its players are speaking about mental health issues too.
On Mar. 6, NBA champion and All-Star forward of the Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love came out in “The Players Tribune” and said in the team’s 117-115 home loss versus the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 5, 2017 that he had a panic attack at halftime. Instead of brushing the situation off, the Cavs helped Love to find a therapist.
All-Star guard for the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan revealed to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star that he struggled with depression and said he was more than happy to be a “sacrificial lamb” for the mental health cause.
NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver and co-host of FOX Sports 1’s “First Things First” Cris Carter said on the Mar. 7 praised both gentlemen for coming out about their inner struggles.
“I love to see strong men be able to reach out and make themselves vulnerable, because more people are out to get help when they hear stories of DeRozan. They hear Kevin Love.”
Love said of speaking out to Cavs.com the next day, “I thought yesterday was a great chance to be able to help people and that’s why I set out to do it.”
DeRozan and Love coming out about their struggles did not please White at all because as he said once in a statement Goldberg read to him, “They are not pioneers on this. Their trying to take credit for it. Where were they five years ago when I was speaking out. DeRozan had the audacity to call himself a ‘sacrificial lamb.’ You’re not a sacrificial lamb. I was.”
White says that DeRozan and Love coming out about their inner struggles was the equivalent of a diary entry. He challenged policy, which he said was within his rights.
Last year led by Commissioner Silver the NBA began The Mental Wellness Program, something that White had been calling for right from the beginning.
The big question is with this new program in place why White is not trying to return to “The Association?”
Perhaps it is because no matter how much the NBA tries to address the issue of mental health it will never be quite enough in his eyes.
“I think there’s a false premise that because Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have come forward that there’s an actual chance towards mental health and that’s just not true,” White said.
“It’s not true because in addition to the players, a total acknowledgment of mental health on behalf of the league would also involve the fans. Who would argue that the amount of alcoholic beverages that are consumed at those games should be monitored. Is that not the mental health question? How man fans are leaving those arenas drunk? It is really a family event if you can come there and get blasted with your kid? That’s the mental health conversation, that’s why I’m not in the league.”
Six years ago, Royce White entered the public spotlight as a talented basketball player. However, because of GAD, his NBA career was short lived as he went from a First-Round pick, with a cup of coffee in a few others stops to playing in Canada. While he was able to find a team that took him even with his mental hurdles, he still had issues controlling himself and while he was a help to his team the Lightning, his last horrendous act of shouting down the NBL’s Deputy Commissioner earned him a 10-game suspension.
The question now is what happens with Royce White and his basketball journey. Well Goldberg reported in his synopsis with “Real Sports” host Bryant Gumbel that the once No. 16 pick of the Rockets that he will not return to the NBL and that he put out in a tweet that he wants to play in the NBA for “FREE.”
If that is the case, the only possible destination would be with as mentioned the Bulls where White’s former college coach in Hoiberg coached him.
That said it takes their front office wanting him and they will have to answer two big question. Is Royce White reliable? Will he show up?
“I think he will,” Goldberg said. “I think he’s beyond what he was five years ago, but I don’t know if the GMs in the NBA think that. This is one of those let’s wait and see type of situations.”
Whether Royce White comes back into the NBA or not, he did bring something out of the closet that was important for the NBA and our society to tackle, mental health. DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love came out bravely and spoke out their inner demons they were dealing with, but what helped them is that when they got onto the hardwood they performed.
It is very tough that it takes someone having to hide in the shadows when it comes to dealing with their inner demons regardless of what it is and that when they do finally come out when the conditions are right they are not meet with the figurative back hand of society.
We as a nation have made progress, but we have a long journey ahead of us when it comes to dealing with tough subjects like mental health. We at least are having the conversation now and the NBA in this instance has made strides to tackle the issue of mental health with their players. That said not all of society has embraced this and some will and some will not and for people like Royce White they will suffer the consequences unless we all can put down our skepticism and put in the work to provide a place for all people with a place for them to take on whatever struggles they have and give them the chance to be their greatest selves and thrive in this great, sometimes crazy world. At least the next person who had the inner demons White was dealing with before he entered the NBA and even after will not perhaps a hard time seeking out help to take on any of their own mental hurdles. The question is how the league can help that particular individual?
Information and quotations are courtesy of 5/23/18 edition of HBO’s “Real Sports,” with Bryant Gumbel, with report from Bernard Goldberg; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royce_White.