Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Harsh Reality of the Royce White Saga

By Charlie Scaturro

Source: Nick Laham/Getty Images North America
Your average 21-year-old dealing with anxiety issues as he tries to figure out his place in the world usually wouldn’t be making headlines. But as we all know, Royce White isn’t your average 21-year-old.

Basketball players like White don’t come around very often and they sure as hell don’t last long on draft day. A 6’8’’ 260-pound point forward whose physique more closely resembles that of a linebacker than a basketball player; White’s immense versatility coupled with his size makes for a downright frightening combination on a basketball court. Equally comfortable bulling his way through the paint and crashing the boards as he is handling the ball and dishing to teammates, there’s little doubt that White has plenty of potential to succeed in the NBA. On paper, GM’s around the league were looking at a player who easily could have (and almost definitely would have) been selected in the top five of the 2012 draft had it not been for his anxiety disorder.

Speaking strictly from a talent standpoint, there might have been other players who were better than White in the 2012 draft class, but if you watched Iowa State’s second-round matchup against Kentucky during the NCAA Tournament you could make the case that White, not Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was the best player on the court that day.

It was only one game, and White was forced to carry the Cyclones on his back against a much more talented Kentucky roster that featured four first round picks, but that one game in which he scored 23 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists, while going toe to toe with Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, showed just how much potential White possessed.

And on the night of June 28th 2012, the Houston Rockets held their nose and took a chance on a kid who they knew would need much more attention than your average rookie, but they did so because they felt the potential reward outweighed the inherent risk that came along with Royce White’s anxiety disorder.

Consider this, when the Rockets selected White with the 16th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft (a draft class that was stacked because many players who normally would have declared for the 2011 draft decided to stick around for another year in college while David Stern commenced beating his chest and throwing his feces around) they did so knowing two things:

1. White had an unpredictable and serious anxiety disorder that, among other things, manifested itself as a fear of flying

2. There were a lot of other talented players available 

Source: Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America
But the Rockets decided to take White anyway and the second David Stern announced that pick there were 29 other GM’s who suddenly felt the weight of the world being lifted off their shoulders because they didn’t have to make the incredibly tough decision of whether to select a player they knew could deliver on the court, but they had no idea if he’d be getting on the team charter first.

It’s been well publicized that White has yet to play a regular season NBA game, and during the past week he has taken to Twitter and done an interview with ESPN to make his voice heard about why he hasn’t played and why he hasn’t even been with the Rockets recently.

You can tell from White’s tweets about his situation and the message he delivered when Colleen Dominguez interviewed him that he’s educated about his condition, and he’s certainly not shy about standing up for what he thinks is right. From the outside looking in, it’s impossible to say whether White is in the right and the Rockets aren’t supporting him, the Rockets are doing everything they can to help him, or some gray area in between. So I won’t even try to make heads or tails of what’s been said by both parties thus far.

While I don’t think anyone on the outside knows exactly what’s happened up to this point between White and the Rockets, what I do know is that any NBA team will continue to tolerate a player’s off the court issues if his perceived value or actual value on the court outweighs whatever trouble he also brings off it. 

As things stand right now, the Rockets made a significant investment in Royce White just a few months ago, and there’s little doubt at 21-years-old that he’s worth plenty to that franchise. But what White seems to be realizing is that, at the end of the day, the NBA is a business. In this business the goal is to put the best product on the court in an effort to win games and make a profit. For the time being, White’s potential to add value to the Rockets franchise outweighs his current disagreement about the way he feels he’s been treated, which has prompted him to say things like:

“At no point will I compromise my health in the interest of business”

Hopefully, White figures out what’s best for him before the harsh reality of the business makes that decision for him.

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