HOUSTON — Tuesday night, Royce White unleashed what I assume he will eventually consider a regrettable stream of consciousness on Twitter.
There was too much of it to repeat here, but the thrust of his complaint with the Houston Rockets was that the organization was treating him more like a commodity than a person, a person who happens to struggle with anxiety and requires special accommodations to get him to and from games, among other things.
I wonder if, to name a few, Samuel Dalembert, Kyle Lowry, Chase Budinger, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Omer Asik saw those tweets. I wonder if they laughed. I wonder if they’ve ever felt like commodities.
White, who recently was assigned to the Developmental League, suggested the organization was talking out of both sides of its mouth when it said, according to White, “You’re a commodity,” and, “We’ll support your mental health needs even if it’s inconvenient.”
“My health can’t afford such a deal,” he wrote on Twitter.
If that’s the case, then I can’t help but conclude White isn’t healthy enough to play in the NBA, and I’d have my reservations about hiring him to do much of anything else.
That’s not because White has anxiety; that can be managed. It’s because he thinks he’s special, and I have a feeling he’s about to learn otherwise. Professional sports have a way of driving home that point.
This lesson is a difficult one for White’s generation. I know because I’m part of it, and I’ve acted like a brat at various moments of my career too. We grew up with participation ribbons and endless appeals to self esteem. My generation is fat with people who think they’re too special to punch a clock. We all think our calling is to design T-shirts or write screenplays or create specialty coffee blends. Our belief we have something unique and profound to offer the world is so deep it’s intuitive.
When White was in college, he started a music label.
There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with following your dream. There’s nothing wrong with having a hobby. There’s no crime in ambition. I don’t know, maybe Royce White was bestowed by his creator with the talent to be one of the best basketball players of his generation and one of its best artists.
Or maybe Royce White is a narcissistic member of narcissistic generation whose butt has been kissed by everybody he’s met since he was 14, who left his first college after getting suspended and transferred to a school, Iowa State, that was desperate to have him.
I don’t know. I don’t know Royce White personally. He seems like a nice kid. It’s just that this whole thing doesn’t feel nearly as unique as White probably thinks it is.
I’m sorry White is mentally unhealthy. I don’t mean to diminish the way his anxiety impacts his life. Because of it, he has to overcome a challenge most of his peers don’t have to overcome. He has been outspoken about his struggle, and I believe he has altruistic motives for doing so. I don’t think his motives are purely altruistic, but I do think he hopes to use his stature as a relatively famous athlete to reduce the stigma from which so many others suffer.
I am afraid whatever ball of good he had wound up on that topic came unraveled Tuesday night.
Don’t feel sorry for the Rockets, here, though. They knew the risk they were taking when they selected him 16th in the draft. A mentally healthy player with White’s ability might have gone in the top five. Houston thought it might turn into a steal.
And, well, it isn’t working out at the moment. White has said in the past that mental health should be treated more like physical health.
So let’s treat this like an ACL tear.
If White blew out his knee, the Rockets would get him surgery and physical therapy, and the rest would be up to him. According to Rockets analyst Matt Bullard, who works for the organization, the Rockets set up mental health appointments for White every day he’s been in Houston, and he hasn’t showed up once.
The Rockets accommodated his fear of flying by agreeing to let him bus to games. He also has a fear of crowds, but outside of playing the Pistons there’s not much the Rockets can do to help him there.
It was in the Rockets’ best interest to do all that for White, but they didn’t owe it to him. You know what the Rockets owe Royce White? They owe him $2.8 million between now and 2014. And Royce White owes the Rockets a forward. If he doesn’t deliver, hey, the Rockets have plenty of young forwards, and they’ll find another one. In the NBA, a $2.8-million mistake is a small mistake.
It would be nice if it all worked out in the end. Nice for White, nice for the Rockets, nice for storytellers, nice for the “Anxiety Troopers,” as White calls those who share his struggle.
And maybe it will. It’s just November of White’s first season. He’s still a very young man, who probably will develop a more well-rounded perspective in the coming years. But if he doesn’t, if White never stops resenting being treated like a product and not a person, maybe he can try something else.