Inside the mind of Royce White

Royce White, the former Minnesota Mr. Basketball, is going back to work in a couple of weeks with the Houston Rockets developmental league team, after a season-long holdout over the way the NBA team intended to accommodate his mental health needs.

White is a fascinating and unique individual (at least to me) mostly because he acknowledges his mental illness in a sport that is decidedly too macho to allow any talk of vulnerability. While he’s ignored my requests for an interview (entirely his right, of course), he’s given an interesting interview to Chuck Klosterman (the Breckenridge, MN native) via ESPN’s Grantland.

White’s problems began at age 16, in a cabin outside of Minneapolis, on the first (and only) day he ever smoked marijuana. The episode may superficially seem like a standard case of weed-induced paranoia, but that’s not how it felt to White. “I think it was in Forest Lake, Minnesota,” he recalls. “I had an out-of-body experience. It felt like I was watching myself have the experience. It was so traumatic for me, and I had such a bad reaction, I started having panic attacks for the next two or three months, in rapid succession. Sometimes two or three a day.”

The son of a cosmetologist and a social worker, White was prescribed Prozac at the age of 18 (he’s still on it today). Having won Minnesota state basketball titles with two different teams in high school, he initially attended the University of Minnesota but never played a game for the Gophers, transferring in the wake of two off-the-court incidents. He announced his “retirement” from the sport on YouTube but eventually transferred to Iowa State, where he flourished under coach Fred Hoiberg (a man White clearly admires).

Somewhat surprisingly, White does not deny that he could play for Houston right now, if that were his decision. He could handle the travel, at least in the short-term. “I probably could do it,” he says. “But what would the effect be? What would I have left at the end of the season? How good would I be for the team during the season?”

His argument, in essence, is that just being able to withstand something does not mean it’s reasonable and healthy. He doesn’t think that a person’s mere ability to manage stress detracts from its corrosive nature. That’s undeniably true. But here again, a conflict emerges from the specific lifestyle White is involved with: The demands of his chosen profession are utterly abnormal.

It’s a great read. Find it here.

  • bark

    Isn’t Klosterman is from Wyndmere, ND?