To my knowledge, the National Basketball Association has not had much experience with players who were open about their mental health issues. However, the Houston Rockets’ decision to suspend first round draft pick, Royce White demonstrates how unprepared they are to deal with such players.
I have blogged about Royce before. He has an anxiety disorder that causes him to have difficulties sleeping and flying. The league claims that Royce has “ refusing to provide services as required by his contract” by missing over a month of the season including the first week of training camp. The Houston Rockets tried to assign him to their D-League but Royce believes that would be a departure from the advice given to him by his medical professionals.
Royce had this to say on Sirus XM’s radio show “Off the Dribble:”
“The reality is that it is not Houston’s fault. As much as we always want to try and blame one side or the other and try and find the black and white in it, it’s not black and white. It’s gray. And they’ve been thrown into a position now where they’re forced to make things up as they go because a protocol has not been put in place for mental health up until this point. And that’s tough for anybody to do. If there were no safety or health codes on how to construct a building, the people who are going to try to build a building tomorrow are going to be in trouble. That’s just the reality here so I don’t really think going to another team is something that would be better. And it’s not something that I want to do. I want to play for Houston. I love the city of Houston. Since I’ve been here the fans have been nothing but supportive — that I’ve met in person. Twitter has been different. The fans that I’ve met in person have been supportive. The community here is great. I have a lot of friends that work in the organization, in the building, that aren’t even related to practice or the game, so to speak. So I have no intention or desire to play for another team.”
I stand in solidarity with Royce and believe that he is absolutely making the right decision in prioritizing his health over his work. If he continues to take his treatment seriously, it is very possible that he will return and have a successful career. I am sympathetic to his situation, but I understand the NBA’s disingenuous response his illness. They feel inclined to do the right thing and provide Royce with medical treatment but cannot operate fully as a business when a contracted player does not hold up their end.
I think Royce needs some time off to take care of himself, but I think suspending him without play was a little harsh. Regardless if it was not the NBA’s intentions, a suspension implies that there was wrongdoing on Royce’s behalf which is simply not the case. I am interested in learning how both parties will come to a resolution.