By Ben Golliver
The Rockets and Royce White spent training camp trying to fashion what the rookie forward called a "good faith deal" to help manage his transition to the NBA, as he suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder that makes it difficult for him to fly on airplanes.
Just a few weeks into the regular season, White publicly questioned the team's commitment to that deal in a statement on Tuesday. White, who has yet to make his NBA debut, reportedly missed multiple practices this week and did not attend Houston's loss to Miami on Monday. The Rockets attempted to assign White, and fellow rookies Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas, to their D-League affiliate earlier this week.
"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."
On his verified Twitter account, @Highway_30, White wrote Tuesday that he is "most [definitely] not AWOL" and that there are "many things [people] don't know. Honesty is what I'm sticking with." He also said that his "problem" with the Rockets dated back to "WAY before" the team decided to assign him to the D-League. He also provided a little clarity of the nature of his issues with the Rockets.
While anxiety is the issue, the main piece of that isn't AIRPLANES, it's asking for support [for] my disorder that's consistent and fair. Again My "Anxiety" is not well but not BAD, my main WORRY is being treated as a digit instead of a HUMAN, in the case of my health.
White also repeatedly cited the Bible verse, Luke 12:3, which stresses the importance of honesty.
Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Rockets acting coach Kelvin Sampson would not disclose the reason for White's absence from Tuesday's practice and that Rockets GM Daryl Morey provided only a brief statement.
“Royce is not available right now. We are committed to his long term success and we will continue to support him now and going forward.”
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, however, seemed to hint that White's future with the team could be in jeopardy.
“That’s tenuous,” Alexander said. “It’s tough to talk about something like that. I think we’re going to handle it internally. If he doesn’t work out, well, it’s tough to lose a draft choice.”
That an NBA player would issue a public statement calling into question how his team is handling his medical issues is incredibly unusual. Of course, everything about White's path is unusual.
The Rockets took a leap of faith in selecting him, hoping that his versatile all-around offensive game and high-energy could be nice additions to a young, developing roster. White was a standout at Las Vegas Summer League, but the issue of his fear of flying arose almost immediately during the preseason, and the agreement between the Rockets and White was said to include provisions that would allow him to travel by bus during road trips, even when the Rockets were covering long distances.
The easiest solution is for White to immediately report to Houston's D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where travel demands will be significantly lighter and playing time should be plentiful. That, clearly, is much easier said than done, given his uncertain health status. White, 21, was the No. 16 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He signed a rookie contract in July that will pay him $1.6 million this season and $1.9 million in 2013-14. Both years are fully guaranteed.