Controversial ex-NBAer Royce White thriving in Canada
National Basketball League's MVP leads London team to final
On March 23, 2014, Royce White took his first NBA shot.
It would also turn out to be his last.
With his Sacramento Kings up big against the Milwaukee Bucks, White came off the bench for the final minute of the game and, with six seconds left, hoisted a 14-foot jumper that missed its mark.
While an 0-for-1 career isn't what most imagined for the talented power forward, who was picked in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, White has now found his groove in Canada.
The star of the National Basketball League of Canada's London Lightning was recently named the league's MVP, and he's helped lead his team to the NBLC finals, which tip off Friday night in London.
White's brief tenure in the NBA was marked by clashes with the league over its mental-health policies. Diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, he was upset to find that the NBA's collective bargaining agreement contained minimal language protecting players with mental-health issues.
He chose to take a stand.
"I looked a bunch of billionaires in the face and told them, guess what? Humanity matters more," White says.
Searching for truth
White never played a game with the Rockets, despite, he says, doing everything asked of him, including an assignment to the D-League, where he averaged more than 11 points and five rebounds per game. That White was successful there, yet never called up to Houston, made his standing with the team eminently clear to him.
"People want to say that it didn't work out with me in Houston because I refused to play. No. I went to the D-League, and they never called me back up. Now you put that together yourself," says White. "Give me a f------ break."
White also says he went on every flight asked of him in both college, at Iowa State, and in the NBA, despite reports that he had issues with airplane travel.
"Why was that even the story? The fact it's widely reported… that's why I have to anchor myself to the truth. That's how much dishonest information is running amok in today's society," says White.
After feeling the effects of what he feels were misleading reports about his career, White says he takes cues from others who are "anchored in the truth," such as Gandhi, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Chris Cornell and Malcolm Gladwell.
The NBA's position on mental health, in White's opinion, is dishonest because the league claims to care publicly while taking little action internally.
"If the NBA wants people to believe that mental health hasn't advanced far enough for them to trust it, then that is a scapegoat because the mental health field has come so far," he says.
In the five years since he was drafted, White says the NBA has barely evolved when it comes to mental-health issues.
"What they've done is they've realized now that the public knows enough about mental health that they need to have a position," he says.
A month ago, White says he and six of his doctors sent a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver that posed some questions about how the NBA handles mental-health issues. There was no response, he says.
Now, after wandering for a few years through the deserts of the NBA's D-League and summer league, followed by some time away from the game entirely, White relishes the success he's found with the London Lightning.
He says his MVP award is a nice form of recognition by the league's coaches, especially considering he didn't lead the league in scoring. However, he considers the MVP a "superficial" award that's "kind of stupid."
"It's like, 'OK, thank you, I appreciate it,' but what does it matter? It's a team sport," says White.
That team-first attitude is something White has prided himself on since high school, and something Lightning coach Kyle Julius picked up on right away.
"No one really knew what to expect because of his absence from the game prior to being here, so what he did was he came in and he was just a really great teammate," says Julius.
Julius says it took about half the season for White to get his conditioning back and when that happened, a leader and an MVP was born.
"Once he found his groove [on the court] he was not only a great teammate, but he led us by example," Julius says. "I think Royce being here with his style of play created an unselfish culture amongst our competitive desire."
The Lightning led the league in scoring and assists en route to a 35-5 regular season. The team swept the Orangeville A's in a best-of-five first round, and swept the Windsor Express in a best-of-seven second round.
On Friday, they take a 15-game winning streak into the final against the defending champion Halifax Hurricanes. Julius says he expects a tightly fought series, while White, confident as always, says he expects to win every game.
White enjoys his place on the Lightning, and is currently happy with his place in life too.
"I love living in Canada," he says. "I love playing in Canada."
As to whether there's a part of him that wants to get back to the NBA, at least to make one shot, White says he doesn't really care. He knows he has the ability, anyway.
"I know the truth about that," he says. "The detractors know the truth about that. The people who live dishonestly know the truth about that. The people who live honestly know the truth about that.
"That's a no-brainer."