Unofficially, the Houston Rockets’ tricky situation is now the Philadelphia 76ers’ tricky situation. The trade hasn’t gone through yet, but soon enough forward Royce White will become a Sixer at some point this month in a cost-cutting move meant to shed enough salary to sign Dwight Howard outright. The former Iowa State standout did not appear in any games for the Rockets during his rookie year, clashing with management over their perceived lack of compassion toward White’s anxiety disorder. White’s condition manifests itself in a fear of flying, and leaves him ill at ease in front of large groups of people.
The Rockets provided White with a bus last season and allowed him to travel via highway to 15 D-League appearances, but the two sides could never get to an agreement on how to deal with a very necessary part of NBA life – taking the hundred or so flights needed to travel with the team. Now waiting for Philly’s call, White is putting his foot down when it comes to wheels lifting into the air. From Randy Peterson at USA Today:
"Hell no," the former Iowa State basketball star said after playing for the Walnut Creek YMCA Wednesday night in the YMCA Capital City League at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School.
"One hundred flights would be like if you're allergic to peanut butter – it'd be like spreading your whole body with it."
"Anything can happen between now and (the season)," White said. "It's every intention of mine to play.
"I don't know what Philly's intentions are. I'm just going to go there, work hard and try to earn my place."
No two disorders are the same, but as someone who shares his affliction I can relate to what White is attempting to work through. And I very much appreciate him “shedding light where there's darkness,” as he puts it, in attempting to educate people about just how crippling it can be to try to squeeze through what your brain is getting in the way of.
This is NBA basketball, though. You have to fly to games. There’s just no way around it. And if White is unable to work around it, then he’s just not going to be able to make it as an NBA pro. Even if the Sixers allow him to only play home games, the sort of resentment and lack of chemistry that could result in such an arrangement (to say nothing of conditioning issues, which White has struggled with) wouldn’t probably be in Philadelphia’s best interests.
Houston truly did want what was best for White, but disconnect tends to take place when you make yourself available for employment in a league like the NBA, and then refuse to take part in the travel that is such an essential part of this line of employment. Nobody forced White to declare for the NBA draft, he went in knowing that a fear of flying would preclude him from being drafted by an NBA team; and if he told teams before the 2012 draft that he could overcome that fear and take part in an 82-game season, then he was being disingenuous.
With that “hell, no”-comment, Royce is being pretty clear, here. You’ll never get him up in one of those, and we admire the transparency.
This could end his career, though. Which is a shame, because we’d like to see his all-around gifts at the NBA level. Flying is a prerequisite, it’s just not something you can get around, and there’s not a lot that NBA teams can do to accommodate White at this point if his condition renders him unable to board a plane.