For months, Houston Rockets rookie forward Royce White has not been thought of as a basketball player. At odds with the franchise over the proper way to treat and handle his much-publicized anxiety issues, White sat out, advocated for his cause on Twitter and elsewhere, and came across as a person more concerned with his health than his NBA career. In fact, he made it clear that he has priorities more important than basketball.
A few weeks ago, White and the Rockets finally reached an agreement on how to handle future anxiety episodes. In keeping with that deal, White reported to the D-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers several days ago to begin his NBA career. On Tuesday night, White played in his first game, notching totals of seven points (3 of 8 from the field), eight rebounds, four assists and one blocked shot in 18 minutes of play in a 139-122 win over the Maine Red Claws.
Check out a few highlights of White's night above. Join us after the jump for some general thoughts on his return.
Fran Blinebury of NBA.com attended the game in Hidalgo, Texas, and tweeted from the scene:
Royce White debut pretty much what was expected: Hit boards, nifty passes, couple of air balls and needs work to get in shape.
— Fran Blinebury (@franblinebury) February 13, 2013
That's about right. As a draft prospect, White looked like a versatile, very talented forward with the need to improve his jumper. He's an excellent rebounder and able facilitator, a player who can bang inside and also help run the offense when necessary. All those abilities and deficiencies were on display Tuesday night, and they'll continue to define his play as his career progresses. In the short term, he'll also need to focus on his conditioning and get reacclimatized to competitive basketball. In his 18 minutes, he also committed five fouls, a sign that he's a step slow.
White explained his feelings about his return prior to the game. From the Associated Press:
"It was tough not being able to play, but it was necessary," White said. "I feel like I've been right on the verge of coming back the whole time. I've kind of been just waiting right on the edge of my seat to come back. I'm not really nervous or anything. I'm just ready to get back out there."
From one point of view, White is primarily a basketball player once again. We can now focus on what he does on the court rather than off it. He can show off his considerable, varied skills, and we can analyze them as we would for any other players. It's a refreshing change from the last few months, a period during which White became a cautionary tale, a martyr, or some mix of the two, depending on your point of view.
At the same time, it's important to note that White is still the complicated person he has revealed himself to be — that doesn't just go away now that he's back on the basketball court. Thankfully, White hasn't shied away from that aspect of his life, either. On Monday, the women's rights organization V-Day released a video in which White speaks out in support of abused women (via @GeorgeFord). It's a small gesture, but also a sign that White won't stop advocating for causes he considers important. It's a big part of who he is, and he wants to use his status as an NBA player to speak out.
During his absence from the Rockets, White made it abundantly clear that he wanted the franchise — and, by extension, the basketball world — to view him as both an athlete and a person. Those needs haven't (and shouldn't have) changed now that he's playing in basketball games again. They're a necessary aspect of any success he has, because they're also key to his conception of himself as a professional athlete.
White will face many challenges apart from anxiety over the rest of this season: he's behind other rookies, the Rockets have lots of young players looking for playing time, their system doesn't necessarily play to his strengths, etc. Yet, whether he's successful or not, it's crucial that we consider him in full, not just as an athlete or a person living with anxiety. If White has proven anything over the past few months, it's that the needs of the player and the needs of the individual are usually intertwined.