Home > Essays > Essay: Royce White, And What It Means To Be A Pioneer

Essay: Royce White, And What It Means To Be A Pioneer

For those of you out of the loop, Rockets rookie forward Royce White went on a twitter tear last week, after news broke that he was being sent to the D-League.

  • I’m most defiantly not AWOL… There are many things here ppl don’t know, #Honesty is what I’m sticking with. @HoustonRockets “Luke 12:3″
  • Problem goes back WAY before D-League assignment. This about #Consideration and #Health it isn’t about Rebounds & Money.
  • My “anxiety” hasn’t caused inconsistency in my participation with the team from training camp until 72hrs ago, ✈ to DET, ✈s Isn’t the issue.
  • I’m most definitely* not AWOL… There are many things here ppl don’t know, #Honesty is what I’m sticking with. @HoustonRockets “Luke 12:3″
  • It’s sad to think ppl ACTUALLY think 🏀 should be higher on my priority list then health..you can’t enjoy success OR money without health.
  • I’d waste my “Talent”, to stand up for myself and what’s right, regarding my health 10x’s out 10. #Logical Player “Commodity” league.
  • “your a COMMODITY” and “we’ll support your health needs even if its inconvenient…” just don’t go. My health can’t afford such an ideal.

He also released a statement:

In hindsight, perhaps it was not a good idea to be open and honest about my anxiety disorder, due to the current situations at hand that involve the nature of actions from the Houston Rockets. As a rookie, I want to settle into a team and make progress; but since preseason the Rockets have been inconsistent with their agreement to proactively create a healthy and successful relationship. At this point the Rockets are aware of my position and the reason for my absence. Any other response is inaccurate. This is important to me. It is a health issue. I must advocate for my rights. It is a player-commodity league. The failure to meet my requests for support will end with me being unhealthy and that is not a consequence that I am willing to accept to play any sport.

I wrote earlier about White’s anxiety and the treatment he might receive in the league compared to the treatment he should receive. At the time, Royce was still in negotiations with the Rockets regarding help he’d receive for his anxiety and OCD as well as how he’d travel, due to his fear of flight. Royce himself had been fairly quiet but open about his condition.

He gave the standard good-guy lines, discussing while he needed to put his health first, it wouldn’t be a disturbance to his play or working with the team. It’s now become clear that this is not the case. But before we all play America’s favorite game, “Point the Blame”, let’s take a breather.

I think most people are now reaching an impasse about how they feel about Royce White. On the one hand, this is a young man who suffers from a mental illness. (Yes, anxiety and OCD are mental illnesses.) He’s also man who choosing to pursue the career of a lifetime. Playing in the NBA, I presume, has been his dream, as it is for most ballers. But as somebody who suffers from these conditions, he is treading new ground.

As recently as five years ago, if he was as upfront and public about his issues as he is, I doubt he’d even be drafted. His battles were public from the start. Teams knew what they’d get when they drafted him, and they knew they’d have to help.

Compare this to virtually every player who suffered from mental illness before. Using the two players I’ve used as examples of sufferers of mental illness in the NBA before, Metta World Peace and Delonte West, their cases were different from Royce’s.

Metta was seen as a crazy, angry young man, who drank Hennessy during halftime as a rookie, and we fans got to see him grow up a little. He’s received help, but remains thoroughly unique. West’s bipolar condition was a sudden revelation, one that only came out after his very public incident of carrying guns while driving on his three-wheeler. He’s now a free agent after an “outburst” in the Mavericks locker room.

But to see a player who succeeded without incident while suffering with mental issues, look no further than the logo himself, Jerry West. West was known as a shy, nervous player, devastated by losses and with incomparable work ethic. But West’s personality, as revealed in his 2011 autobiography, came from an abusive childhood; he received regular beatings from his father, leading to a lifelong battle with depression.

While promoting the book on HBO’s Real Sports, West said ”I would go to bed feeling like I didn’t even want to live…I’ve been so low sometimes and when everyone else would be so high because I didn’t like myself.” His wife, Karen added, ”He wouldn’t speak for days at a time … It worried me … Jerry doesn’t say `I love you.’… Maybe once a year.” In his later years, West self-treated himself with Prozac and is doing much better. But the Hall of Famer’s story is a rare one in the league.

There are some who will look at that story, and ask why Royce can’t be the same why? Why can’t he keep his mouth shut, deal with it privately, and just play the game? It should be noted that people who say this are assholes, but their sentiments are not rare.

Royce is not doing himself any favors with his behavior on twitter. I think typing all that was really immature. Stupid, even. That’s not to say it’s impossible the Rockets are being neglectful, but The Dream Shake’s Tom Martin sums up the frustration many of Royce’s supporters, myself included, are feeling. An excerpt from his article “Handling the half-truth: Why I can’t bring myself to believe Royce White”:

Royce is tweeting about honesty, so he says. He has hashtagged the word “honesty” quite a bit. He has also hashtagged the word “transparency” to describe his motive behind tweeting so openly. Royce White wants to get the truth out there, so he says, and he’s out to do so on Twitter, a public forum just about as understanding and thoughtful as the YouTube comments section.

But here’s the thing: Royce refused an interview request with the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen. He hasn’t gone on television to explain his situation. He hasn’t gone on talk radio to voice his concerns with the Rockets. Twitter is the only place we’ve heard from Royce thus far, and I think it’s because he is afraid that appearing on any other media platform to explain himself might be ‘taking it too far.’

Feigen’s just-the-facts article in the Houston Chronicle on the situation is what was referenced above. As Miller notes in his article, it comes off as pro-Rockets, but keeping Miller’s quote above in mind, it’s no surprise. If you judged Royce based on his twitter rant and official statement, it’s no surprise idiots on twitter are jumping on him. There’s also the damning allegation revealed by an anonymous Rockets source that Royce hasn’t been attending therapy sessions. This has broken down into a “he said, they said” situation, but there’s evidence piling against Royce.

As he often does, Adrian Wojnarowski has even more of the story detailing White’s stubbornness that can’t be attributed to his condition. There’s a not so subtle suggestion that Royce is telling management he wouldn’t be such a problem if he just got to play.

If Houston gives up on him, White will struggle to find another team willing to make even close to the commitment – if any at all. White has turned down NBA D-League assignments, missed practices and conditioning workouts and tried to convince Rockets officials that his anxiety order would be much, much better if they would simply play him in games. This isn’t a negotiation, and never will be.

Houston redid White’s contract so it could pay for White’s RVs and car services on trips, because of his fear of flying. The Rockets have let him come and go this season without fining him. They owe him that patience and understanding, but they don’t owe him playing time.

Tack on this damning report, and any sympathy left for Royce White will exit quicker than his own career likely will:

White wanted separate transportation to get to training camp, and it was offered him. He didn’t take it. The Rockets redid his contract and agreed to pay for the RV travel to bring him to selected games. They sent a vehicle to pick him up for the drive to training camp, and he didn’t get into it. The list goes on and on, and it’s November of his rookie season.

Most teams in the NBA would never give White this kind of special treatment. “He isn’t good enough – and I’m not sure anyone would be good enough – to have a completely different set of guidelines for him,” one GM told me. “I would’ve already cut him.”

Can I give some advice to Rockets fans foaming at the mouth over this? Wait. Wait and see what happens. Because if it turns out the Rockets had been negligent and held Royce’s illness against him, then I can’t blame Royce for his outburst on twitter. Not one bit.

We’re still getting one side of the story, and it’s all from Rockets management and backstage personnel. But if Royce really hasn’t been attending therapy, and if he’s using his anxiety as an excuse to complain about not getting enough playing time (WHICH IS AN EXTREME ACCUSATION and you should really, REALLY be careful if you’re going to say that), then he needs to get help, and he needs to know when to put his career on hold.

As much as the Rockets need to be patient with Royce and give him the help he needs, Royce needs to be patient with the Rockets. Royce is something of a pioneer, treading new ground as a player who needs this level of help from a team. I believe the Rockets are trying to help, but they may not totally know what they need to do. It’s also the first time a team has gone to such lengths to help a single player. As I wrote in my first article, basketball is a team game, and a game that hinges on chemistry within a team. Uniformity above individuality.

If Royce isn’t getting the help he needs, he either needs to communicate that to the Rockets organization, find a team that will actually help him, or quit. That sounds harsh, I know. It’s got to kill him to be living his dream, only to see it vanish. But to use Royce’s own words:

The failure to meet my requests for support will end with me being unhealthy and that is not a consequence that I am willing to accept to play any sport.

If that’s the case, Royce, put your mind where your mouth is.

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  1. November 25, 2012 at 11:14 pm | #1

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