It's time to accept the fact that Royce White will probably never play in the NBA.
Not this season of course. That's been apparent for awhile, ever since White launched his half-reckless, half-obsessive Twitter campaign and stopped showing up for work. Royce likely has the best intentions, and clearly believes in his cause to destigmatize mental health. Unfortunately, his actions over the past two months have poisoned the well too much for the Houston Rockets to ever work with him again.
But as each day drags on without a resolution, with Royce and the Rockets digging deeper into their positions, it's becoming increasingly likely that Royce won't play for any NBA team in the future. He's finishing up a week-long suspension for refusing his assignment to the development league, and reports out of Houston indicate that the Rockets could be looking to sue White for breach of contract. All of that's a shame, because as Iowa State fans know; Royce White has the talent and charisma to be a star in the NBA.
That's not to say that Royce won't make money playing basketball. The Harlem Globetrotters already offered him a spot on their roster, making special concessions to work around his anxiety issues. Hell, the Rockets made fairly similar concessions late last year, allowing Royce to travel by bus to certain games. So it's clear that teams want to work with a player with White's talent, and once this situation with the Rockets is resolved, Royce will probably find a home in Europe or in a semi-pro league somewhere with a team that's desperate for a talent (or at least a marketing) bump.
But as Royce White made perfectly clear on Slate's "Hang Up and Listen" podcast, his problem with the Rockets isn't about his anxiety over flying or the travel challenges. Royce has made this a larger campaign (at least in the media), seeking to change the way the NBA deals with mental health. The podcast is worth a listen, as White's always a good interview and he has nothing but kind words for Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State. In it, he discusses why he's currently at an impasse with the Rockets' front office and coaching staff, and his need for the NBA to adopt his now ubiquitous #protocol:
"The plan that Iowa State implemented was a very simple one. It was, listen, Coach Hoiberg was great in understanding he knew very little about mental health, and I think part of the reason he was so open to it was he had his own health issues that is another complex health issue with his heart condition. And he understood he needed to listen not only to the doctors, but he needs to listen to me, he needs to trust that I wasn’t going try to get over on him using my condition or what not and we had that understanding and we ended up working well together."
"You know, this [arose] when we were about to go to training camp. And there were a number of things that were going on with me, and my doctor recommended—who was my family practice doc, who first diagnosed my illness when I was in high school and has given me advice ever since—she said, "Hey listen, you need to stop doing anything until they get a solid plan in place that’s well thought out and considerate and that’s well within your right to ask for." So that’s what I did. I said, "Hey listen, let’s get a plan in place. And until we get a plan in place, it’s not going to be safe. The workplace is not safe. And that’s the bottom line." And, you know, they were very open to that in the beginning. They wanted to get together and do it. And then I think once they figured out how hard it might be or how complex it might actually get, that willingness to be collaborative only strains more when people on both sides figure out how much they need to put in."
If this is the case, if this is what Royce White needs to be able to play in the NBA, it will not work. NBA teams have huge amounts of money tied up in their athletes. In return, they expect these athletes to be on their best behavior on and off the court; every team insures their athletes to make sure these investments are protected. It's completely different from the college game, where a team has the cost of a scholarship and the school's reputation tied up in an athlete. Now, a reputation is a valuable thing, but it's not the $3 million that Houston currently has invested in Royce White.
Fred Hoiberg was fine letting Royce use his own doctor while he was Ames, because Fred knew that Royce would be more comfortable and play a better game if he was getting treatment from someone he trusted. But the Rockets don't have that kind of relationship with Royce White. They want to make sure he's being treated by a doctor they approve of, one who's not going to recommend that Royce take a spiritual journey to Mexico in the middle of the playoffs.
So this is the impasse Royce White and the Rockets are at, with the Rockets insisting White follow the regulations that are currently in place for mental health in the NBA, and Royce insisting that the Rockets restructure that system and create a new path for athletes that have mental disorders. The Rockets aren't going to do that, not for a rookie who hasn't played a regular season game and has openly insulted management in a public forum. And it sounds like Royce is holding firm in his belief that his safety would be at risk if he plays in the NBA under the current rules.
So each side is stuck. One side with the potential for a bright and lucrative future playing basketball for a living, watching that future circle the drain because he's waging a crusade he believes in. The other side just wanting to get some kind of return on time and money spent. Neither side is likely to cave, but Royce White has more to lose. The Rockets aren't going to stop being a basketball team because one player held out for a year before being cut from the team. But Royce is looking less and less employable by the day, and that has a real impact on his future, and the future of other athletes with mental health issues.