HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Watching Houston Rockets rookie Royce White‘s promising pro career crashing before it starts with one perplexing mishap after another has been nothing short of remarkably sad.
His chances of ever playing for the Rockets this season or beyond took another turn in the wrong direction Sunday with the team announcing that it has suspended the 6-foot-8 forward out of Iowa State. The suspension, which will withhold paychecks from the 16th overall draft pick, comes one week after White refused to report for assignment with the D-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
“The Houston Rockets have suspended Royce White effective immediately for refusing to provide services as requires by his Uniform Player Contract,” Rockets general manger Daryl Morey said in a statement. “We will continue to work with Royce to hopefully come to a resolution.”
Morey and White, 21, were unable to reach an agreement during talks this week.
White, whose contract is guaranteed for $3 million through his first two seasons, suffers from an anxiety disorder that includes a fear of flying. He has consistently railed against the team’s handling of his disorder and he recently said during an appearance on on a SiriusXM basketball program that until the Rockets deliver a proper protocol for dealing with mental health care, chances are “very high” that he will never play in the NBA.
“The reality is that it is not Houston’s fault,” White said on the program. “As much as we always want to try and blame one side or the other … 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.”
White also said: “It wouldn’t shock me if we couldn’t be logical and say a protocol is needed because it’ll be the hard thing to do. If that’s the case then so be it. I stand on what I say and I refuse to put myself in a hazardous situation to play a sport.”
It’s impossible to determine where this saga is headed next, but clearly it continues to go down a dark road for White, the Rockets and the NBA. Is this a call for the NBA to place a greater focus on the treatment of mental health issues and the needs of some of its players? Definitely, just as it is for the country as a whole.
But White must also realize that in any other profession, he will not, for one, command nearly the earning power, and more importantly, he still won’t be able to dictate terms of his employment. Few other places in society offer the luxuries of medical, training and other support staffs that NBA franchises afford.
It’s confusing as to what protocol will satisfy White. In the SiriusXM interview, he suggests that any NBA team would be in the same boat as the Rockets.
“There’s no mental health protocol here, for not only the Rockets but the entire league, really,” White said. “I expressed that that’s really unsafe if you think about it. 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.”
So now the paychecks stop for White, who has yet to play a game for the Rockets. His status as a first-round draft pick is quickly turning into an unfortunate footnote.