By Ben Golliver
The Rockets and Royce White have reached an agreement to end their stalemate over the treatment of his mental health that will allow the rookie forward to rejoin the team after a months-long absence.
Team and player issued a joint statement on Saturday announcing that White has been reinstated following a suspension that was imposed on Jan. 6 and that he will soon report to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets’ D-League affiliate.
The joint statement read: “The Houston Rockets and Royce White have today reached an agreement that addresses the major issues that they have been discussing, provides a new start, and gives Royce the best opportunity for long term success as a Houston Rocket. This has been a learning process for both parties. The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have approved the settlement. Royce is no longer suspended and is re-instated effective immediately. He will report to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on February 11, 2013.”
White told a Houston-area radio station earlier this week that such an agreement was close.
The Houston Chronicle reported earlier this week that the deal would include a protocol to govern his mental health treatment.
According to a person with knowledge of the plan, the Rockets are close to making an announcement in which White would return to the team under a written agreement that includes key elements of the protocols that White wanted to have as an addendum to his contract. That agreement would not, however, give authority for decision-making to an individual outside the organization, as White wanted.
White, the No. 16 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, has yet to play for the Rockets this season and has twice refused assignments to the Vipers this season. He stopped attending Rockets games and practices in November and was suspended in January.
Earlier this week, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel aired a feature on White, in which he called for a formalized protocol to handle his mental health treatment, as he suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, panic attacks and a fear of flying. White also sought the appointment of an independent doctor — “a medical point person” — who would make the determination on whether or not he would be cleared to play.
To HBO, White painted the mental health protocol as a matter of life and death, saying that he was prepared to walk away from his NBA career if it came to that.
“If I was an NBA player now without the protocols and safety measures,” he said, “I would be risking my health, risking my life. What comes along with mental health if left untreated? Alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior, those are things I’m not willing to risk to play basketball, to have money, to have fame. That’s it.”
With his doctor, White drafted a protocol that included an “acknowledgement” that “mental illness/disability as being in the category of medical condition,” meaning any absences resulting from mental health issues would be treated like an injury.
“If your orthopedist says Royce’s left toe has a crack in it, he shouldn’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight, you can’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight,” White told HBO. “The only difference is you can’t see mine. There’s no swelling, so to speak. It’s not purple.”
In a November letter to White revealed during the HBO feature, Rockets GM Daryl Morey expressed a desire to accommodate White’s requests but also some frustration with his absence.
“We have bent over backwards to accommodate your requests and help you meet these goals,” the letter read. “At our meeting yesterday, I spent significant time addressing your frustrations. I would like to take this opportunity to further explain how your actions and the changing nature of your explanations for your actions has frustrated our attempts to help you meet your goals. The bottom line is that we remain willing to work with you on issues that arise from legitimate medical need, but you have to come to games, practice and everything else that you are able to do, just like any other player.”