The NBA wasn’t ready for Royce White.
White, the former Iowa State University standout and former first-round draft pick by the Houston Rockets in 2012, came into the league expecting greatness. That was until he realized what he described as the league’s narrative and complete disregard for mental health, something he has struggled with since he was a teenager.
Since exiting the league in 2014, White has switched his primary focus from scoring in the paint, to speaking about his experience with mental health and advocating for more. On Nov. 19 at South Hamilton Middle and High School, he spoke to an audience of around 100 people that consisted of students, faculty and parents.
“The best way to know the darkness of the world is to know your own darkness,” White told the audience. “A lot of people have neglected this topic, and now it’s time to stand up to mental health.”
He shared his story of him being within an arms length of fame and riches to those dreams being dashed because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the early 2010s.
His goal now? Continue to break that stigma.
“I think some things have changed somewhat, but I think as new things are learned, there are always new things introduced,” White said. “The dangers are the narratives surrounding this issue and the narrative you tell yourself.
“We need to build a society that accepts that mental health issues are present, and no one is demonized for having (such issues).”
While playing with the Rockets throughout summer workouts in 2012, it dawned to White many people were going through the same issues he was, but just weren’t open about it publicly, he said.
“Mental health issues were considered the same as character issues,” White said. “I went through the NBA draft process, and they saw my anxiety problems as an issue. I attended an NBA seminar where mental health was not brought up, and I read my entire contract where there was not one mention of mental health. Those were all red flags to me.”
So White, at the forefront of an issue that now is in the daily news, said something to management and the NBA.
“I went to my team and said we have to do something on mental health … I thought the NBA would do something, but I was sadly mistaken,” he said.
That’s when the NBA began to “blackball” him, White said.
Today, stars such as former NBA champion Kevin Love and San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar Derozen have been in the limelight for their openness on mental health issues.
“It’s a strange feeling to be on the forefront of an issue this big, and while it is still an honorable thing to do, or a fortunate thing to be apart of, it shouldn’t be me,” White said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword, where I shouldn’t have been on the forefront of this issue … It should’ve been up for discussion 20 years or go or even more.”
Now, White, who has spent time playing in Canada and various developmental leagues, as well as a stint in mixed martial arts, said is just looking forward continuing his work to raise awareness about mental health issues, and do what he can to facilitate change so no one else has to experience what he’s been through dealing with his own darkness.