After a standoff that's lasted since virtually the beginning of the 2012-2013 NBA season, and on the heels of a piece that ran on HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday night, it appears that Houston Rockets rookie forward Royce White will soon return to work under parameters contained in a contract addendum outlining the protocol under which the Rockets and White will handle White's general anxiety disorder (GAD).
As bizarre as this debacle with White has been, it's probably fitting that clarity came in a random call-in to, of all places, an FM music station. In a call to 97.9 The Box on Tuesday, White disclosed that his return was imminent, "pending paper work":
"The resolution, when I say we're in the 12th hour, what I literally mean is we're in the 12th hour .. .. any hour now this thing will be over," White said. "I'm supposed to be returning to the D-league on February 11. That was the plan. We'll see if it finally goes through but last thing I heard was that's what we're going to do, that's what we're planning to do. Waiting on everybody to get the right paperwork done and stuff.
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the written addendum to White's NBA contract includes several key elements of a four page document entitled "Mental Health Protocol," a document which White submitted to the team shortly before the start of the season outlining several potentially ground breaking (and to many, unreasonable) demands to ensure that White maintain positive mental health.
The key sticking point from that document has been White's demand that he and the team designate an independent doctor to determine that he is healthy enough mentally to practice or play on a day-to-day basis. It's unclear if the team and White are on the verge of agreeing to this stipulation or, at the very least, some form of it.
Because White has been suspended without pay by the team since January 6 for breaching his contract, and because recently it became public knowledge that White admitted to lying to the team about the extent of his illness during the lead up to the draft, it's been assumed that the negotiations to bring White back have been contentious between him and the Rockets, but White refuted that:
"Everybody wants to make it seem like wild, wild west standoff between me and the Rockets. That's not the case here. There has been an issue that's been identified. Mental health is not descriptive enough in CBA (collective bargaining agreement) and UPC (uniform player contract.) It being so vague makes us make it up as we go. There's no protocol. We need to rectify that to make sure the environment is safe. If we're making it up as we go, ... that's probably not the safest thing."
So, assuming there are no hiccups here as the proverbial shot clock winds down, Rocket fans (and more specifically in the near term, Rio Grande Viper fans) can expect to see Royce White back with the organization on February 11 as he accepts his D-League assignment.
This resolution comes at a time where many Rocket fans had resigned themselves to White's eventual ouster from Houston (which, as odd as this whole thing has been, still can't be ruled out). Due in part to White's outspokenness on Twitter and probably in equal part to the esoteric nature of mental illness to most people, sympathy for Royce White has been in short supply as this ordeal between him and the Rockets has churned along.
Right or wrong, from about the time White launched his first #AnxietyTroopers tweet, most Rockets fans have taken a "love it or leave it" attitude toward White, with many rightfully wondering why he could play every game of his junior year at Iowa State at an All American level and now, all of a sudden, hold the Rockets prisoner.
An easy (and possibly partially correct) answer is that White's anxiety level predictably runs inverse to the number of minutes he plays, that he's equal parts #AnxietyTrooper and #NBADIva. At Iowa State, where he was "The Man," he functioned perfectly fine. In Houston, where he was about to be sent to the developmental league, he couldn't function at all. To the non-mental illness sufferer, White's sudden affliction upon learning of a D-League assignment seems awfully convenient.
The sympathy tank was already on "empty" for White, and then along came stories of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's letter from November 20, 2012, imploring White to get his act together and outlining all the steps the team had taken to help him. Included in the letter was the startling revelation that White had actually lied about his condition to the Rockets as they evaluated him before the 2012 draft:
To revisit from the beginning, before we drafted you, you told us that your fear of flying was not an issue and that you were ready to be an NBA player. Shortly after we drafted you, you apologized for having to mislead us. You later indicated that you were feeling anxious about flying to the NBA's rookie orientation program this summer. When you missed your scheduled flight, we arranged for a later flight and for Matt Brase to travel with you, working with the NBA to accommodate your concerns. Shortly after that, we informed you that we thought it would be beneficial for you to meet with Dr. Aaron Fink, a world-renowned psychiatrist, who could provide you with access to an appropriate professional in Houston to help should any situations arise. We gave you Dr. Fink's contact information and several available times for an interview. You and your representatives responded that you viewed this as a very helpful step and confirmed that you would meet with Dr. Fink. You did not do so.
And if it was possible for White to garner even less sympathy from Rocket fans, the Real Sports piece was the coup de gras, and I say that for the following reasons:
1. Intentionally or unintentionally, EVERY place that they filmed during the piece was conducive to somehow pissing off Rockets fans. When they weren't filming sit down bits in Royce's spacious palace of a home, he and Bernard Goldberg were driving around in White's tricked out luxury automobile. (Hell, even when White was shown working out, he was wearing Rockets gear, spawning any number of "repping the team you're shitting on" tweets.) In short, fans that came in with a preconceived notion of White being a rich, coddled baby felt validated watching the footage of White plodding around his mansion in his bathrobe.
2. Via draft night footage from the website Grantland, we saw conversations between White and his agent that indicated that the Rockets were the only team that was pondering selecting White in the mid to late portion of the first round. For a guy who led his team in all five major categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals) at Iowa State, White had clearly scared enough teams into thinking he's not worth the trouble. In the footage, White's agent said, "If McHale can pull this off, Houston is a question mark at 18. The rest of the room other than McHale says you're too risky, ok?" The Rockets wound up taking White at 16, so clearly Kevin McHale (with a reputation staking voucher from White's college coach and McHale confidant Fred Hoiberg) went to bat for White in the Rockets war room. How's that taste now, Coach? 29 other teams didn't trust Royce White. One team did. And that's the team that White himself says he won't trust.
3. After hearing and seeing White's descriptions of what ails him on a daily basis, I think the average person (I include myself in this group.) has a hard time grasping just what exactly is so anxiety inducing for Royce White that they themselves don't go through on a daily basis. In other words, "Really, Royce? You're stressed out about your job, your future, life in general? You desire some semblance of order? Well, get in line, dickwad."
The piece showed White on draft night unable to sit down and telling a friend he was so nervous that the room made him feel like he was being "eaten by wolves." Honestly, all I could think to myself was "Yeah, that's probably how I'd feel too on draft night. Having your future decided is a stressful deal. If you don't like it, go work at McDonald's."
In short, the piece didn't help people understand general anxiety disorder any better. All it did was put a smiling face and a defiant voice on everything that Rocket fans have been reading about Royce White. If they hated him before viewing the show, they probably hated him more after. Once again, whoever is advising White failed him miserably.
In the end, Royce White has the ultimate power to make this all go away. He can come back February 11 and start playing basketball at a high level again, show everyone why McHale fought so hard to have Morey select him to begin with.
White said it in the HBO interview, regarding the Rockets: "They took a chance on me, they didn't have to."
Indeed. And right about now, Royce, you need the Rockets a lot more than they need you.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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