White Doesn't Think Mental Illness Is Unique

White Doesn't Think Mental Illness Is Unique

I probably don't need to tell you who Royce White is. He's already received about as much attention as any professional basketball player can, assuming that player has never played one minute of professional basketball.


This is, in fact, the second feature Grantland has published with White as the subject, along with a 10-minute 30 for 30 documentary filmed on the day he was drafted. Sports Illustrated sympathetically profiled White around that same time that summer, only to scold him in a back-page essay on January 21 of this year. Last week, he appeared on both HBO's Real Sports and ESPN's Pardon the Interruption (and made roughly the same argument in both venues). As with the coverage of any cult of personality, there's a handful of biographical factoids that appear in virtually all of these profiles: One is that White led his college team, the Iowa State Cyclones, in all five major statistical categories as a sophomore (the only Division I player in the country to do so). Another is that he's terrified of air travel. Another is that he's a self-styled 21-year-old eccentric who plays the piano and writes screenplays about windmills. But the main thing everyone knows about Royce White is that he's locked in a contractual, philosophical dispute with the Houston Rockets, based around a mental illness that everyone accepts to be real.


White wants the Rockets to implement what he calls a "mental health protocol," a medical curriculum that essentially hinges on White having his own personal psychiatrist decide when he's mentally fit to play. The Rockets feel they've already done enough (including agreeing to transport him to drivable away games so he won't have to fly). They want him to accept their compromise and show up for work. And for most people, this is the whole argument. If you side with White, you believe that his anxiety disorder is no different from a physical injury, and that his mental health advocacy is warranted and overdue; if you side with the Rockets, you suspect that White is something of a con man whose adversarial attitude is an affront to his $3.4 million contract and the calculated risk Houston took by drafting him 16th overall. It's a clash between labor and management, and his supporters and detractors tend to split down those preexisting lines.

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