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On Royce White, Delonte West, and the perils of illness

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My guess is, everyone on this site who is over the age of 25 has lost at least one friend to mental illness, probably a lot of you under 25, too. I've lost several. The one who was closest to me-we weren't best friends, but we were close, he was one of the few people I still tried to see, when I went home.

No specifics, but he was a brilliant student and very very good at his chosen profession. It was a tough profession, though, and he began to feel like he couldn't break through. That's all I knew, I didn't know the rest. Just that, like a lot of us, he was having a hard time finding a job. I got him a job, even, as I was leaving town, to replace me at my old job, and it was a good job, and he would have been great at it. I even trained him. But he did not take it.

I was mad that he didn't, though I didn't tell him about it, because I felt like I'd stuck my neck out to help him out, and he'd made me look bad in front of my boss. I never told him that, and I'm glad. It wasn't too long after that I found out he was gone. Obviously, I still feel bad about being mad.

I don't know anything about what it's like to be depressed, or to have an anxiety disorder, and I don't know, haven't found anyone who can say what exactly Royce White needs that he's not getting. There's been some conjecture that it hast o do with transport. I suspect that's because all we know about White's issues is that he's afraid of flying, not because that's all he needs or thinks he needs to manage his disorder.

I'm not accusing the press of negligence, it's their job to report on this story and the Rockets' job not to let them do a good job of it. Nevertheless, if that is it, if Royce needs to be excused from the basketball games that are too far away for an RV to make it in time, he can't be an NBA basketball. It may be overblown, but it seems like that was part of the reason that Mike D'Antoni is now the coach of the Lakers. If 11 time champion Phil Jackson couldn't buy an excused absence, rookie Royce White, cannot.

All I want to say, all I want to try to convince anyone to think is, that's okay.

I know it's a big step forward in our society that every article about Royce White is sympathetic, but it's not enough. I don't understand mental illness. You don't understand it, no one who doesn't have it understands it. If we've come along way from the "rub some dirt on it" days, that's great news. It. Is. Not. Enough.

We say, we're sorry. We say, we're sympathetic. We say you're not special, though, you either get in line, or you're out. I don't really have a problem with any of that, except for the tone. Because it needs to be okay for Royce White to walk away. The tone can't be "Get in line, we all have to, we've all done it," because we don't have mental illness. It must be "If you can't get in line, you can't be an NBA player, but that might be what's best for you."

Because when I look at Royce White, I see LeBron James. Obviously not as talented, obviously not as precocious, probably couldn't come close even if he were mentally healthy. There's no doubt that Royce was a top five talent in last year's draft, but LeBron is a top 1 talent in all the drafts since the 80s. Still, at a muscular 6'8", 260 to LeBron's 6'8" 250, as a guy who averaged 13.4-9.3-5.0 last season at Iowa State, you can see where I'm coming from.

If White does not become the player he could be, it will indeed be a tragedy.

Not a Len Bias tragedy. More like a Jim Jackson tragedy.

And, for the record, Royce was almost the Mavericks problem. The scuttlebutt is, I don't know if it's true, that had Royce slipped just one more spot, the Mavericks wouldn't have pulled a trigger on the trade that got them three late picks. It's easy to see, with his mental issues, why Royce slipped, but just as easy to see, with his all-around talents and size, why it would have seemed a coup to get him at 17, a coup probably worth Crowder-James-Cunningham. And that would have made it personal, but I try to remember, I don't always fail to remember, that the personal is not the same as important.

Royce has a problem he cannot get over. He cannot fight it. He cannot change it. He cannot struggle through it. It's not an injury that a tough guy would play on, it's not an emotional home situation that he has to put behind him. It is something chemical that is in his brain that is a ghost that eats his soul. Even when he is feeling better, he is not better. Ron Artest is now the happy warrior, 85% of the time, but he still almost took off James Harden's head late last year. You don't get better.

And part of it, yes, is that every time Royce White steps on a plane, he thinks he is going to die. He can't talk himself out of it, or suck it up, or rub dirt on it, or find a way to cope, "like we all have to," "Like everyone does," because we don't, and he can't. And there's more, and I don't know it, and you don't either. We blame him, because he has so much talent and seems to want to throw it away, and we don't understand that he envies us for the fact that we do not have a fanged shadow that follows us around wherever we go.

We think it's crazy that he could walk away from millions, and we just can't accept that if he does, it'll be the right thing to do. Just because he has a chance to do something that many of us wish we could have, that many of us would do terrible things to have, does not give us the right to tell him he has to find a way, if he just can't.

Here's what I know. If my friend had felt like there was something else he could do in his life, if he had felt that he hadn't spent too much time chasing his dream to do anything else, I think he'd still be alive.

I wish he could have made a different choice. I wish he'd felt free to make a different choice. He didn't, and that was it.

And if the Rockets lose out on a 16th pick, because he can't bring himself to do the things he needs to do to do the job, the Rockets are justified, but the Rockets will be alright. And so will Royce White, who did not ask to be born a super talented basketball player. And if that's what Royce White needs to be okay, it's exactly what he should do.

And not one of us should say that in his place we would have found a way, unless we have been there, and know, unless our darknesses too, grow beyond our control,our brain chemistries turn against us, and we know what it's like.

In the end, I'm thankful this decision is the Rockets', and Royce's, and not mine. And that's all I want to say about it. To Royce, to Delonte, to Ron Artest, and to all of us whose names nobody knows, I wish only peace, I have only sympathy, whatever you're going through. Good luck.