Kings forward Royce White made his long-awaited NBA debut 631 days after he was selected by the Rockets with the No. 16 pick in the 2012 draft.
The versatile forward, who has campaigned for improved mental health treatment for NBA players, played during the final minute of Sacramento's 99-79 blowout home loss to San Antonio on Friday. He did not register any box score statistics.
White, 22, had been the only remaining 2012 first-round pick who had yet to see court time in the NBA. He never took the court during his rookie season as he was engaged in a months-long dispute with Houston management over the treatment of his mental health. White suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks and a fear of flying, and he sought a formalized protocol to handle his mental health treatment as well as the appointment of an independent doctor -- “a medical point person” -- who would decide whether he would be cleared to play.
After a public back-and-forth with the Rockets that involved a suspension, White eventually suited up for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s D-League affiliate. He averaged 11.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 16 games last season.
Houston chose to resolve its issues with White by trading him to Philadelphia in July 2013. The Sixers brought White to camp and gave him a shot during the preseason but decided to release him before the start of the regular season.
Rockets blog ClutchFans.net reported in January that Houston general manager Daryl Morey referred to White, who earned All-Big 12 First Team honors at Iowa State, as the "worst first-round pick ever."
"I take some sort of pride that you could argue that Royce White is the worst first-round pick ever," he said during a meeting with season-ticket holders. "He's the only one that never played a minute in the NBA that wasn't just a foreign guy staying in Europe. It just shows we swing for the fence."
During his time away from the Rockets, White pulled no punches, appearing in an HBO feature to lay out his case for improving mental health treatment for NBA players.
“If I was an NBA player now without the protocols and safety measures,” he said, “I would be risking my health, risking my life. What comes along with mental health if left untreated? Alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior, those are things I’m not willing to risk to play basketball, to have money, to have fame. That’s it.”
In a March 2013 interview with The Huffington Post, White said he believed executives in the league office and the Rockets “want me gone” because of his advocacy for his mental health rights.
“If I was to make an educated guess, I would guess that Adam Silver and David Stern and the Rockets organization, some other owners in the league, GMs, want me gone,” White said in the interview. “And why do they want me gone? Because business is about convenience, it’s not about doing what’s necessary, right? It’s about cutting overhead… Being efficient. And a lot of times, what’s best for us as human beings doesn’t meet that criteria for business people.”
Earlier this month, the Kings signed White to a 10-day contract and assigned him to their D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. There, White averaged 8.8 points (on 36.7 percent shooting), 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 24.8 minutes over four appearances. This week, Sacramento signed White to a second 10-day contract and he participated in practice with the Kings, with coach Michael Malone saying he would give White a shot at court time during a game.
“This whole process between Royce and the Sacramento Kings is about him as a basketball player,” Malone said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “He did everything that we asked him to do up in Reno. He’s been tremendous while he’s been in Sacramento. No problems at all. No worries from our standpoint as a coaching staff. We’re going to expect him to do what everybody else is expected to do. Show up on time, work hard, pay attention, be disciplined and buy in to what we’re trying to do. He appears to be ready, willing and able to do that.”
White tweeted this week that he was glad to have a second chance with the Kings, who have officially been eliminated from playoff contention.
"Had a great time at my first full practice [with the] Sacramento Kings," he wrote. "Great guys! I'm excited and appreciative to be working here." The loss to the Spurs dropped the Kings to 24-45 on the season.