Despite being selected 16th overall in last June’s draft by the Houston Rockets, forward Royce White has yet to play an NBA game, as he and the team have repeatedly disagreed with how to deal with his anxiety disorder that includes a fear of flying. He has repeatedly taken to Twitter to critique the Rockets while also shedding light on his mental health issues.
Reports from back in October said the Rockets were willing to let White travel by bus or even drive to some road games, but since then the relationship between the two sides has turned icy as the team reportedly began fining him for missed practices and missed sessions with a therapist chosen by the team.
The Rockets reportedly assigned White to their Developmental League team in November, but he did not show up for practice and has essentially remained away from the franchise ever since. There had not been any news on the situation for awhile, but White had apparently begun to see the team’s recommended psychologist and had reportedly worked out for the team.
So things appeared to be on a positive track, but that all changed this weekend when Houston again assigned White to their D-League affiiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He has refused the assignment and has cited, via a public statement, an “unsafe” atmosphere while suggesting the Rockets have been misleading and inaccurate in their representation of the facts regarding his situation.
Any mental health issues White has related to anxiety and fear of flying are certainly not to be made light of, and I will not do so. But the past may help shed some light on the man. He was suspended from the University of Minnesota basketball team in October of 2009 after an incident at a mall and then followed that up with being a suspect in an on-campus trespassing and theft case in November of that year. White never played a game for his home state Gophers and transferred to Iowa State, where he played his lone collegiate season in 2011-2012 and was a productive all-around player for a team that reached the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
White did say in the same statement this weekend that he wants to play, but will only “do so with the collaboration and recommendation of trained professionals.” Of course his long-term health is his top priority, and rightfully so, but he also suggested the Rockets have ignored medical protocol and have been unsupportive of him in general. To this point no one in the organization has made any public comments regarding White’s recent comments or refusal of his D-league assignment, and that is unlikely to change.
Just how this situation will ultimately be resolved is unknown, but I for one would not be surprised if Houston makes a tough decision to completely cut ties with White at some point soon. There is of course a financial consideration for the Rockets, since if they choose to cut him and can’t show cause they would owe White the remaining balance of the $3.4 million in guaranteed money he is due this season and next.
At some point White has to decide if he really wants to play basketball or not, and if he is willing to take the steps to do so. That includes perhaps being assigned to what is essentially the NBA’s minor league to get his career back on track, but at this point he seems to think that is beneath him and maybe his off-court issues will always stand in the way of having a productive career.
White is clearly a talented basketball player, as evidenced by the brief glimpse he gave last season, and that alone may be enough to convince other teams around the NBA to give him a chance if Houston releases him or perhaps looks to trade him. A change of scenery to a team that will be more “supportive” of him may help things, but I think no matter where White goes the same issues that have surfaced with the Rockets will follow him until he is out of chances.