By Rob Mahoney
Royce White and the Rockets have yet to come to a mutual understanding when it comes to the intersection of pro athlete responsibilities and the complications created by White's diagnosed anxiety disorder -- a disconnect that has seriously called into question whether White will play NBA basketball this season or at all. It's a scenario that's incited quite a bit of backlash against White in public circles, if only because of the lack of a point of reference; although plenty of players throughout NBA history could be classified with some diagnosis or another, mental health has rarely been broached in professional basketball on serious, precedent-setting terms. Previous eras in both pro sports and American culture at large valued those who did their jobs without complaint and fell in line despite all factors, but as our understanding of psychological disorder has evolved, so too have the grounds changed with regard to identifying risk factors and optimal treatment plans for those with diagnosed conditions. White has every right to push for the plan that will be most conducive to his well-being, even if his actions can be grossly oversimplified as a player refusing to report.
What made matters worse is that White had become part of the problem, at least when it came to the public perception of his situation. Twitter has largely been White's medium of choice in communicating information regarding his position with the Rockets, but a poorly planned message broadcast in 140-character bursts exacerbated an already dicey situation. White's tweets came off as platitudes and generalities rather than a cogent perspective. Hashtagging tweets with "#HONESTY" or "#Truth" doesn't make them any more meaningful, especially when White failed to honestly or truthfully convey the specific qualms he had with the Rockets' approach on his own terms.
Since then, more substantial methods of communication have given White a better foundation for the stance he hopes to convey and a chance to legitimately turn the coverage of his story. A written statement gave an overview of some of White's needs, but his most compelling case yet came via radio interview -- a forum that gave his trial a real, human voice. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop transcribed some of White's discussion with Justin Termine and Mateen Cleaves from the SiriusXM show "Off the Dribble," the most intriguing of which is this:
"The reality is that it is not Houston’s fault. As much as we always want to try and blame one side or the other and try and find the black and white in it, it’s not black and white. It’s gray. And they’ve been thrown into a position now where they’re forced to make things up as they go because a protocol has not been put in place for mental health up until this point. And that’s tough for anybody to do. If there were no safety or health codes on how to construct a building, the people who are going to try to build a building tomorrow are going to be in trouble. That’s just the reality here so I don’t really think going to another team is something that would be better. And it’s not something that I want to do. I want to play for Houston. I love the city of Houston. Since I’ve been here the fans have been nothing but supportive -- that I’ve met in person. Twitter has been different. The fans that I’ve met in person have been supportive. The community here is great. I have a lot of friends that work in the organization, in the building, that aren’t even related to practice or the game, so to speak. So I have no intention or desire to play for another team."
Whereas Twitter harbors an inherent simplification, allowing White to speak his mind at greater length has given his stance the necessary nuance. White seems sincere, and comes off as a player seeking resolution rather than blame. He also offered a bit more clarity regarding what he's looking for from Houston:
"The protocol [advocated by White] actually calls for medical professionals to have executive authority in medical situations regarding mental health. And that is something that’s been declined. So basically I’m fighting to have that rectified. I just don’t think it is OK or responsible or even logical to have GMs or any front office personnel have executive authority in medical situations."
"This is about -- in general -- who has executive authority in medical incidents or on everyday operations because the reality here is that it’s just not logical for somebody like Daryl Morey, for example, who is my GM, to say yea or nay on anything regarding medical situations. And that’s kind of where the rule stands now, is that a GM has the right to decline the medical recommendations of even their own doctors. And that’s just not safe to me."
It's not about his fear of flying and it's not about his recent D-League assignment. From White's perspective, all that's required is putting judgment on mental health issues in the hands of mental health professionals, in the same way that a team would likely trust its own doctors in treating a more overtly physical ailment. Even if you don't agree with White, he at least represents his complete view so that we might actually have a discussion on the subject, as opposed to hinting at his perspective in vague bursts of social media. This is a reasonable stance from a thoughtful player. That it's taken us this long to get a clear and complete articulation of the problem is hardly optimal, but one can hope that a more informative turn to the discussion (via both statement and interview) can at least help impatient basketball fans to more fully understand what's at stake for White and what's being asked of the Rockets.