Most basketball players would sacrifice anything to play in the NBA, but Royce White is making the rare, and inspiring choice to put his mental health above his NBA dreams.
A member of the Houston Rockets' celebrated 2012 draft class, White has NBA scouts and experts drooling over his potential to impact the game in all areas after a hyper-productive college career at Iowa State. But we're a few days into Rockets training camp, and White still hasn't seen the floor. Why? Because he's refusing to report to camp until the team agrees to a plan that is designed to protect White and help him deal with his well-chronicled anxiety disorder.
The plan White and his representation are proposing would limit the number of flights the rookie would have to take throughout the season (White is terrified of flying and often suffers from panic attacks when he is forced to fly). Instead, White's plan would allow him to take a private bus to "drivable" games throughout the season. He hopes that avoiding planes and remaining in a comfortable, controlled travel environment will ward off his sometimes crippling anxiety. White says he will assume liability and purchase the bus himself, footing all of the costs out of his own paycheck. He just wants permission from the Rockets.
White is comfortable talking about his mental illness with the press -- making him one of very few NBA players, including Delonte West, to admit to suffering from a mental illness -- and on Twitter (@Highway_30), where he has both received support and been told to "get on a damn plane" by fans. In college, White flew on the majority of Iowa State's road trips, according to Sports Illustrated, and knew coming into the NBA that teams would likely be less accommodating. But that hasn't stopped White from doing whatever he can to make the transition to pro ball work for him.
That said, White's plan isn't without problems. Houston is arguably one of the worst places for White to land, travel-wise — the closest divisional opponent (San Antonio) is a 3 hour drive away, while the furthest (Memphis) is 9.5 hours away. The beginning of the regular season will see the Rockets visit Detroit and Atlanta, then return home to play Portland in the span of four days. Although there are fewer back-to-back games this season than last, Houston's schedule is filled with logistical nightmares for the rookie, and that's not taking into account the myriad shootarounds and practices sprinkled throughout the weeks.
Additionally, one of the toughest tasks for any rookie in the league is finding a role among the veterans and acclimating to the NBA lifestyle, but White's proposed path will severely strain his relationship with his own teammates. Simple bonding activities like team dinners or hanging around in the hotel room will be altered or scrapped entirely to fit his travel schedule. Instead of picking Marcus Morris' brain on the flight home after an away game, White will have to pack up his things and hit the freeway, alone. He'll be an outsider on his own team -- by no design of his own or his teammates but simply as a result of time spent away from each other. One would imagine this is why the Rockets are hesitant to make such an allowance for a player (particularly a rookie), but White remains hopeful that they can come to an understanding.
The road ahead of White is rough, but if the team and player can work something out, hopefully White can realize his vast NBA potential in the years to come.