Pages Navigation Menu

High Anxiety

High Anxiety


Did you hear the one about the Rocket that couldn’t take off? 


There’s no punch line here because there is nothing funny about it.  Royce White, the Houston Rockets #1 pick in the 2012 draft may never play a single game in the NBA.  He hasn’t blown out his knee or suffered some career ending injury.  He hasn’t been accused of rape or arrested for a DWI.  No, White’s problem goes much deeper than that.  What he’s fighting is something that no on can see, but it threatens to rob him of his professional basketball career and perhaps even a chance at a normal life.  Royce White suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder.  He has a debilitating fear of flying, among his other fears and anxieties, which prevent him from traveling with his team.  


White’s condition, while apparently uncommon in professional sports, where hopping from city to city every night via aircraft is par for the course, is more common in the population at large.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)  anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million Americans.   Fear of flying is one of the most common phobias, in fact.  It is said that 1 in every 6 people suffer from some form of flying anxiety, causing them to avoid air travel altogether.  But what if you depend on flying, and flying often, for your livelihood.  What if you are Royce White?


Here’s a kid from Minneapolis, who was a 6 ft 8 inch stand out power forward in high school.  He received tons of scholarship offers from colleges all across the country.  Surprise-surprise, he stayed in his home state and played for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.  Those who suffer from anxiety do not do well with the unfamiliar.  Royce stayed in his comfort zone.  Anxiety forces people to do that, it takes away choice.  He stayed in a place where he felt safe and comfortable.  In October of 2009, Royce was arrested for stealing $100 worth of clothes from the Mall of America and was suspended by the university.   Soon after he announced his departure from the Univ of Minnesota.  As a basketball player, he was sought after and recruited by other teams, including the gold standard of college basketball, the University of Kentucky and coach John Calipari.  A call from Calipari and the mere thought of going to Kentucky triggered a panic attack in White.  Again, he decided to stay a little closer to home and play for Iowa State.  Royce was a star there.  He was voted Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and he was a First Team All-Big 12 selection.  He was living a dream, while fighting through a personal nightmare, trapped inside an unrelenting mental disorder. 


Royce decided to forgo his junior and senior years of college and enter the 2012 NBA Draft, where he was chosen by the Houston Rockets as the 16th overall pick. White requested that as a part of his contract that he be allowed to purchase a bus to reduce the amount of flying he would have to do.  He cited his fear of flying as a “trigger” for his anxiety disorder.  The Rockets and White came to an agreement to try to eliminate as many triggers as possible for his disorder and approved the use of the personal bus for him to travel from game to game whenever possible.  White missed the first week of training camp until the agreement was finalized.  Soon after, White had a dispute with the team regarding the handling of his anxiety disorder.  White was sent to the D-league (the equivalent of the minor leagues in baseball).  The Rockets learned what so many friends and family members of those with anxiety disorders have learned:  being sensitive and educated to the condition is important; being an enabler is unhelpful.  The possibility now exists that White will never play a single game for the Houston Rockets or for any other NBA team.


White has stated that he would rather “never play again” than “compromise his health in the interest of business.”  Plain and simple, this is his fear and anxiety talking.  Never playing a game is exactly what is compromising his health!  He is blaming the Houston Rockets for his own unwillingness or inability to get a handle on his mental disorder.  He is submitting to the fear.  Royce White may be able to pass this off as someone else’s problem, or play the victimization card for convenience, but the problem is solely and squarely on his broad shoulders.  It is his obligation to make himself better and healthier.  If he never wants to play again that is fine.  But he should acknowledge that he isn’t making that decision, his anxiety is making it for him.  The Rockets will go on. The NBA will go on.  But he may look back on it all one day and say to himself:  I let anxiety beat me.  He let it rob him, as it has robbed so many, of opportunity, constancy, normalcy. 


Royce White needs to step up for the sake of himself and for all those who suffer along with him — like the writer of this piece — and become a shining example of resilience in the face of fear.   He is one of the those rare individuals who can use his public profile to make a statement about defeating a mental condition that affects so many of us.  The answer isn’t a bus.  It isn’t a public quarrel with the Rockets.  The answer is inside of him.  He needs to get good, sound treatment and he must will himself to be better.  Anxiety thrives on avoidance.  You must always do the opposite of what anxiety is telling you to do, no matter how difficult, no matter how painful.  If it tells you you to sit, you stand, if it tells you you can’t, you must.  If it tells you to not play, you play.  White is submitting to anxiety by not playing, by not flying and by putting the reason for this on anyone or anything other than his anxiety.


Royce White is not alone.  So many of us deal with this condition every single day, and it’s a constant battle to maintain, to push on, to defeat the fear that holds us back.  If White doesn’t face it now, at 21, the anxiety will get worse and worse and it won’t just be about not playing in the NBA.  It won’t just be about having passed up a golden opportunity.  His world will get smaller and smaller and it will become about not getting in a car, not going to the store, not leaving the house. Anxiety doesn’t give up just because you do.


My own therapist once said these simple words to me and they seemed to help, above all the medical treatment and pills, they resonated:  A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies but one.  Those of us who suffer from anxiety must be brave in the face of an insidious illness.  We must be willing to fight every day to do those basic things that others do with such ease.  The best advice is to take it a step at a time.  Make a flight plan, resolve to see it through, show up at the airport and see what happens.  We must not avoid, we must confront.  Now’s the chance for Royce White to be a hero, even if  he never scores one basket in the NBA.  He can be a hero to himself and to so many of us by just showing up to play.


For help with Anxiety Disorder, Panic, or Fear of Flying, please contact The White Plains Hospital Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center at or call (914) 681-1038.


To get in touch with Charles, or any columnist here at AFRSports, please email us –