HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Philadelphia 76ers forward Royce White is, according to ESPN, the worst player in the NBA. The media giant ranks every player in the league in its annual player rankings, a worst-to-first countdown that kicked off Tuesday with the one of the league’s most confounding players.
White’s situation has been baffling from the start. The Houston Rockets drafted him 16th overall out of Iowa State in 2012, but the 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward, an intriguing blend of power, grace and versatility, has yet to play his first NBA minute. White suffers from an anxiety disorder that includes a fear of flying, something that could be debilitating for an NBA player and his career. He used his new-found public platform last season to criticize the Rockets, the NBA and society in general for a fundamental lack of understanding of mental disorders, championing the cause to create acceptable working environments for people coping with mental illness.
He’s been lauded by some as a much-needed crusader (in January, a mental-health center bearing his name is scheduled to open in Houston) and criticized by others as an opportunist who used his position to draw public attention to a situation that might better be handled through cooperation.
Royce claimed that the Rockets did not live up to promises to provide him with surroundings that would help him deal with his illness. When he refused an NBA Development League assignment early in the season, the team suspended him for violating his contract. The Rockets reinstated him in January and White finally agreed to join Houston’s D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. By then, Royce’s weight reportedly had ballooned to around 300 pounds. He played 12 games with the Vipers, averaging 9.5 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, but later left. The Rockets ultimately found the situation intolerable and traded him in July to Philadelphia for virtually nothing.
White has appeared willing to engage in this fresh start with Philadelphia, judging by his Twitter messages. But where he and the Sixers go from here is still unclear. Philadelphia’s training camp opens on Sept. 28. The Sixers have seven preseason games scheduled, including one in Spain and another in England.
The Sixers could not be reached for comment on White’s status for training camp or the preseason schedule.
On Twitter, White has posted shout-outs to his Philly teammates, and on Tuesday he responded positively to the ESPN.com ranking:
Bottomed-out and rebuilding, Philly needs players, particularly young and inexpensive building blocks, and White is considered a low-risk acquisition. The team will owe him $1.7 million this season with an option to keep him or let him walk next season.
If White and the Sixers can come to some kind of a solution to cope with his illness, his talent suggests he could become one of the more intriguing comeback stories of the year. He could make a positive impact for his new team and, in doing so, he would create a larger and more welcoming platform to champion the cause of mental-health awareness.