Royce White says the NBA wasn’t — and still isn’t — ready for his message about the importance of mental health, but he at least hopes that you are.
White, the former Minnesota high school star who signed with the Gophers, landed at Iowa State after trouble here and was chosen by the Rockets 16th overall in the 2012 NBA draft, has been for several years a mental health advocate while openly chronicling his decade-ago diagnosis with generalized anxiety disorder.
He has been playing this summer in the Twin Cities Pro-Am Basketball League while living in Minnesota and pondering his next moves — on and off the court.
“I’ve been blackballed from the NBA,” White said this week during a lengthy interview, of which the full audio is available in podcast form on startribune.com. “Let’s just come out and say it.”
Watching him play this week in the summer league, it’s clear the skills are still there and that White — at 6-7 and 265 pounds — remains a physical specimen. He has the size to play in the post and the vision to play point guard, a skill set he showed off at Iowa State.
He played the past two years in the National Basketball League in Canada — once being named league MVP — before a 10-game suspension at the conclusion of this season ended his run.
The suspension stemmed from a public exchange with a league official at the end of a playoff victory and represents a microcosm of his career. He explains it as standing up for principles while authority figures are uncomfortable with athletes speaking their minds, though he also concedes he could have handled the situation differently.
In regard to the NBA and the Rockets, White spoke up because of his familiarity with his own mental health concerns and the league’s lack of policies surrounding mental health at the time. He says his willingness to be outspoken and address things that make people uncomfortable caused him to be labeled a distraction and cast aside.
“I said at [age] 21 to the NBA that I think mental health is the most important issue of our time and that the mind is the start and finish,” White said. “Not only did they not have a response or argument — as if there’s a defensible argument — but the fans that are endeared with the game of basketball and sport in general provided an argument for them.”
Notable NBA players such as Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have shared their own mental health struggles within the past year, reflecting a shift in perception. But White wants even more from the league — and from humanity in general.
“I respect Kevin Love, I respect DeMar DeRozan and anybody who is willing to share their struggles. Ultimately the way for us to navigate the chaos is for us to level with each other and show our vulnerability … and share our common struggle,” White said. “But as far as it being a symbol to a progress in the area of mental health … it’s not one we can hang our hat on as a progress that is adequate. There’s a difference between progress and adequate progress.”
White is hoping to advance that progress in Minnesota and further advance our understanding of mental health.
“I can navigate my condition free of shame. The people who have a judgment or preconceived notion or verbal abuse are probably dealing with anxiety, too — unknowingly,” White said. “That’s the irony of it. I’m going to keep fighting for you because you need mental health advocacy more than I do.”