"Is he worth it?"
In the sports world, it's the answer to that one simple question that ultimately determines the length of a player's shelf life in whatever league he plays in. Extrapolated in more detail and reworded, is the combination of a player's skill set, salary, and performance worth whatever negative baggage (the "it," if you will) he brings with him?
"It" can be discipline issues, baby momma drama, dissatisfaction over playing time, laziness, a variety of things. Most of the time, the "it" has been seen a thousand times before, and the answer to the governing question above -- is he worth it? -- is readily apparent.
However, in the case of Rockets rookie forward Royce White, none of those things is true.
As you probably know, Royce White was drafted by the Rockets back in June with the 16th overall pick in the NBA draft out of Iowa State. The middle of three Rockets first rounders (Jeremy Lamb was picked 12th overall, Terrence Jones 18th), White brought with him a sublime set of basketball skills and a reputation for playing his best games on the biggest stage (see: NCAA Tournament, 2012).
Unfortunately, White also brought with him an anxiety disorder that manifests itself, among other ways, with a severe fear of flying on airplanes, which is kind of an issue when the job you are most qualified for requires you to work at least one night in 29 other cities around the country.
White's condition was no secret to NBA teams, and despite his seeming ability to control it to some degree at Iowa State, it did appear to affect his draft status. After the vouching of White's college coach Fred Hoiberg and, in turn, Hoiberg confidant/Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, Morey decided to take a flyer on White and his top 5-level talent with the 16th overall pick.
Things were going just fine throughout the summer. White, along with the Rockets' other rookies, had a very productive summer league in Vegas, giving hope that this new nucleus would be the foundation for an exciting future. Eventually, the summer gave way to the fall and Rockets' training camp.
And that's where it began to unravel for White and the Rockets -- at training camp. Actually, it didn't unravel so much at training camp because White didn't make it to training camp, at least initially. At the very last minute before the start of camp, White balked on his preseason attendance, and stayed home until he and the Rockets could figure out a long-term plan of attack for dealing with his disorder.
Eventually, White made it into training camp in early October as he and the Rockets agreed to a plan that would allow him to utilize ground transportation to games whenever feasible. Of course, White's absence from camp put him woefully behind from a conditioning and practice standpoint, and McHale was very vocal about White's responsibility in making the unique travel arrangement work:
"Royce is going to have a little bit of a different path in the NBA," McHale said. "If your choice is to have a 10-hour bus ride, or an hour flight, everyone would want to take an hour flight. He's just going to have to work his way through all that stuff.
"We're here to help him and support him as much as we can," McHale said, "but he eventually has to be responsible to your team and your teammates. That's the biggest thing."
What McHale was saying, in not so many words, is Royce White would have to be worth "it." In this case, White's "it" is his anxiety disorder's necessitating time away from the team with hours of wasted ground travel. Through the first couple weeks of the season, White had seen no playing time, but the team hadn't had any major issues with him either (at least, none that were public). So far, so good.
That is, until last Friday.
That's when the team claimed White missed the game against Memphis with migraine headaches, which White openly refuted on Twitter the next day:
For the record, I'm not injured... Not even a little bit. #Truth
— Royce White (@Highway_30) November 11, 2012
(NOTE: Get comfy. Twitter is about to become a major theme here in a minute or so.)
Sunday came, and so did practice. There was only one problem -- no Royce White. Monday came, and so did the game against the Miami Heat, and you can probably see where this one's going -- no Royce White at the Heat game. Tuesday came, and finally the Rockets decided to send White to the D-League (which basketball-wise is absolutely the right move).
However, major damage was done. In an interview with Mark Berman of Fox 26, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander was asked about White and seemed resigned to the possibility that he might not be a Rocket much longer:
"That's tenuous and it's tough to talk about something like that," Alexander said.
"I think we are going to handle it internally, but it's tough. If he doesn't work out, well it's tough to lose a draft choice."
And if that happens?
"I would feel bad for Royce and I would feel very bad for the team," Alexander said.
The Rockets have not said yet how they will penalize White for being away from the team.
"We have internal repercussions which I'm not going to talk about," Alexander said.
I mean, wow.
Not wanting to be painted the "bad guy," and clearly concerned that the team was controlling the tone of the narrative on his story, Royce White issued a statement through his publicist on Tuesday:
"In hindsight, perhaps it was not a good idea to be open and honest about my anxiety disorder due to the current situations at hand that involve the nature of actions from the Houston Rockets," White said in the statement. "The Rockets have been inconsistent with their agreement to proactively create a healthy and successful relationship. Failure to meet my requests for support will end with me being unhealthy and that is not a consequence that I am willing to accept to play any sport."
That "THUD" you just heard was the wheels of Royce White's RV running over the Rockets' organization. Wow.
And that wasn't all. The rookie then took to Twitter on Tuesday night, and he tweeted. And tweeted. And tweeted some more. He never stopped tweeting. He spent all night Tuesday, and most of the day Wednesday applying a social media blow torch to his career, 140 characters at a time.
It started with this tweet...
— Royce White (@Highway_30) November 14, 2012
...and kept going and going. Retweets of supporters, retweets of haters, continued rambling explanations of his side of the story, all with an underlying tone that the Rockets were somehow treating him like a slab of meat.
To the average person, mental illness and anxiety disorders are a mystery. That unto itself is a problem, but the bigger issue is that only a small percentage of society has the self-awareness to realize they know nothing about what ails people like Royce White. When it comes to his inability to function in certain settings, Twitter meatheads and keyboard warriors think that White is just some kind of wuss, like his affliction is the equivalent of a fear of snakes or something.
This was borne out in the replies to White's Twitter barrage. While there were many people supporting Royce White and wishing him well, there was plenty of ignorance flowing through the veins of social media as well.
(To be clear, I didn't condone White's taking to Twitter to rant, but I also don't condone people saying things to White, or anyone for that matter, that they wouldn't say to his face.)
For your entertainment, here are some of those tweets:
Many of them were the garden variety "You're a waste of a draft pick and a big puss" tweets. Here are a couple standard ones:
@highway_30 hope the Rockets cut u. What a waste of a draft pick. If u can't get over the "illness" of not flying on a plane gtfo of the NBA
— Austin Gaither (@AustinGaither) November 14, 2012
@highway_30 is such a priss. get on the plane and play the game you chose to play
— Jared Stoltz (@jaredstoltzsays) November 14, 2012
People still use the word "priss?" Continuing, tweets like this one kind of make my point that the world is full of people who wonder why you can't just put a Band-Aid or "rub some dirt on" mental illness:
— Floyd Ray (@Floyd_Ray) November 14, 2012
Yeah, thanks Doctor. I'm pretty sure there's not an inhalator that you can take to cure anxiety disorder. Stay healthy, jackass.
At a certain point, college pride kicked in as well:
You @highway_30 are not only making yourself look bad, you are making Iowa State look bad. You should quit tweeting and go play
— Brian Gossett (@bgossett5) November 14, 2012
Yeah, Royce...I mean, you're making yourself look bas, sure...but what Iowa State, huh?!? What about the GODDAMN CYCLONES, ROYCE?!?! Have you no school pride?!?!
You knew that Video Game Guy would have an opinion on Royce White's getting on the court....
What a crazy week for @highway_30. Just read up on his tweets. They need to let this dude go out & play already. He's a beast in 2k lol.
— Justin L. (@xJUSTINNN) November 14, 2012
That tweet seriously sounded like it came from my 13 year old son, which is fine for him because he is...ya know...THIRTEEN FUCKING YEARS OLD!!
Inquisitive tweeters, while no less ignorant than the angry ones, are always fun. Like this guy who poses the poignant, hard-hitting question as to why Royce White chose to play basketball:
@highway_30 Question if you know that the NBA has a vigorous traveling schedule why become a professional basketball player?
— Rogelio Solis (@Publius13) November 14, 2012
Gee, I dunno, let me think...the money, the women, the adulation, the money, the free shit, the five star hotels, the money....
Now, this guy has so little patience for Royce White that it took him a three tweet mini-barrage to get his point across, which is ironic seeing as he appears to be an anxiety sufferer himself:
@highway_30 ok child I have anxiety and Houston is my birth city, your an embarrassment to my town and team. I don't use anxiety for an
— Tyler Jennings (@TylerCJennings) November 14, 2012
@highway_30 excuse for a demotion in the work place. You need to man up.You have a kid to support and a history of theft.
— Tyler Jennings (@TylerCJennings) November 14, 2012
— Tyler Jennings (@TylerCJennings) November 14, 2012
My favorite part of that whole tirade was "You have a kid to support and a history of theft," as if someone's criminal history is a reason that they need to get back to work. (NOTE: Royce White was involved in a laptop stealing incident back in college.) Um, Royce, you need to get back on the court before your history of theft consumes you from the inside!
I love this one. Nothing some dude hiding behind his key board calling somebody else an "internet tough guy":
This ugly @highway_30 thinks he should get paid to "be sick". Show us how sick you are by jumping off Toyota Center, internet tough guy.
— MasochistMike (@MasochistMike) November 14, 2012
Plenty of proposals to trade Royce White on the internet from aspiring armchair general managers. I think this one was my favorite one. This guy obviously has a very high opinion of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau's acumen:
maybe the Bulls could trade Boozer for @highway_30.I'd take a flyer on him. Thibs could figure it out
— Stuart Pidrak (@IWantToGoHigher) November 14, 2012
Yeah, thousands of highly educated, world reknowned doctors can't wrap their arms around anxiety disorder, but Tom Thibodeau can probably has it out. Sorry, when I look at Thibodeau I don't see someone whose brain holds the key to unlock mental illness, I see someone trying not to sweat when he eats.
And finally, it appears that the drunk Aggie who started an airport fight has a Twitter account:
@highway_30 man up and ball you pussy. You're not gonna get paid for sitting on the bench you stupid pussy nigga
— Cadillac Don (@NafizzleGbs) November 14, 2012
When the Rockets drafted Royce White, they were fully aware of his condition, so it is right and imperative that they exhaust all avenues to try and make this thing work. It's just common sense, from both a business and a public relations perspective. According to television analyst and former Rockets player Matt Bullard, the team has been holding up its end of the bargain:
"[White's comments show] that he does have, you know, a mental illness, because a lot of the things he's saying don't really match up with the reality as I see it as I'm around the Rockets every day."
Bullard went on to say that the Rockets have arranged for White to get medical attention for his illness every day and he has yet to show up to any of the appointments. Naturally, this turned into another tangent on Royce White's Twitter rampage:
— Royce White (@Highway_30) November 14, 2012
Here's the thing -- at some point, Royce White and the Rockets need to have some functional discourse on this deal. I have no problem with Royce White getting the attention he needs, and I have no problem with the Rockets allowing for special accommodations for him, so long as it doesn't interfere with the team's accomplishing its goals.
My issue with Royce White is that his decision to perch himself atop a social media soap box is the exact opposite of productive discourse. It's the equivalent of standing on the median at Westheimer and Post Oak and screaming into a megaphone. And last I checked, no conflict was ever resolved with one side screaming into a megaphone.
And by the way, where is Royce White's inner circle to tell him to stop tweeting? Where is his family? His agent? How does his publicist hit "SEND" on that statement that threw the Rockets under the bus?
We are not even a month into the Royce White Experiment, and already people are asking the magic question -- is he worth it? And as White presumably makes his trek to the D-League, the evidence continues to pile up one tweet at a time, and the answer to the question becomes more and more obvious.
Like I said before, the answer to that question usually is.
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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