Unless it’s in an Allen Iverson, antihero sort of way, people don’t pull for athletes like Iowa State forward Royce White.
They don’t, because people seldom rally behind athletes with criminal records, or ones accused of stealing from their fellow classmates. They don’t cheer for players who withdraw from school without playing a single minute of college basketball because they were suspended indefinitely, nor those who father children out of wedlock before their 20th birthdays.
And they certainly don’t root for the ones who have done all of those things, which Royce White has.
But, in this case, they should.
They should root for Royce White because he knows he screwed up, and instead of dwelling on it or blaming someone else, he’s worked tirelessly to fix it. “I had a lot of immature philosophies about life,” he said in an interview with the New York Times’ Ray Glier. “I’ve changed the last couple of years and have become a guy that emphasizes being selfless. That’s the way I live my life and it’s the way I try and get people around me to live, too.”
Root for Royce White because, as he told ISU TV’s Will Hall, “second chances in life are rare,” and that he appreciates the one he’s been given “with everything that I have.”
Root for Royce White because of the other off-the-court issues, like the generalized anxiety disorder that causes him to lurch from his sleep several times each night, and to this day leaves him terrified of running wind sprints because when he was 10 years old, he watched his best friend collapse next to him and nearly die doing a post-practice set.
Root for Royce White because no matter how many doctors tell him otherwise or how many ways they phrase it, a part of him still thinks the same thing will happen to him.
Root for Royce White because that anxiety disorder sends him into a panic before every plane flight, and root for him because, after years of running away, he now finds a way to climb on board regardless.
Root for Royce White because of the costly time he didn’t. After White’s departure from Minnesota during his freshman season, John Calipari offered him a scholarship to transfer to Kentucky. All he had to do was get on a plane. He couldn’t. The aftermath, he told ESPN’s Myron Medcalf, was “a hurt so bad… because my anxiety let me down in that situation.”
Root for Royce White because after he couldn’t bring himself to join Kentucky’s army of one-and-doners, he did his damndest to beat them, battling the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament’s second round like Hector took on Achilles, Agamemnon and the Greek army. Like Hector’s Troy, the Cyclones eventually fell – but only after White poured on 23 points, nine boards, and four assists on 75% shooting.
Root for Royce White because, even though he was stood up, Calipari never stopped. “I've done this a long time and if a young man has a good heart, I can deal with everything else,” he said on the eve of the second-round NCAA Tournament matchup between his Wildcats and White’s Cyclones. “I think he has a good heart."
Root for Royce White because his coach at Minnesota, Tubby Smith, still does – and between White’s pleading guilty to petty theft and fifth-degree assault (for shoving a security officer) at the Mall of America, alleged theft of a fellow student’s laptop, and the fact that he never once suited up for the Gophers, nobody’s been burned by Royce White worse than Tubby Smith. “I’m pulling for him,” said the coach of his former pupil to the Des Moine Register’s Randy Peterson. “His life is in order.”
Root for Royce White because he sees part of getting his life in order as helping others do the same. The same guy who pukes before games over the thought of performing in front of tens of thousands of people now shares his story with the whole world in an effort to raise awareness of the impact anxiety can have. “I want to speak out now,” he tells Medcalf, “because not only do I understand my own anxiety, I understand that anybody who's had an anxiety disorder, diagnosed or not diagnosed, how it can affect their life."
Root for Royce White because, two years removed from the trouble White caused at Minnesota, this is what Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said to Medcalf of his time in Ames: “He's made a very positive impact in this community.”
Root for Royce White because he’s a 21-year-old father equipped with the parental wisdom of a 40-year-old. “The main thing I want [my son] to do is understand the reason he's important to me is how I feel about legacy and the preservation of life," White said to Peterson."I would tell him to dare to be different. If you see something you think needs to be changed, question it. Be a guy that doesn't just always go with the status quo, because a lot of times, status quo isn't right.”
Root for Royce White because, when it comes to his potential employers, he’s decided that honesty is the best policy – no matter ugly the answers may be. “It's all on the table,” he told reporters at the NBA Draft combine. “I'm just trying to be as honest as possible. I've found that, for me, especially having anxiety, being honest always helps keep my stress low. Trying to keep up with lies is very difficult. “
Root for Royce White because truly unique players only enter the league once in a rare while, and he has a chance to be one. Just as we will never see another Iverson, or Barkley, or Nowitzki, we too may not see another 6’8’’ 270-pounder who fuses relentless edge of a banger with the guile of a floor general in this exact synthesis. The most apt comparison is a poor man’s LeBron James but that doesn’t quite fit, something that stems just as much from White lacking James’ otherworldly athleticism – who doesn’t? – as it does White precociously discovering at age 20 the post game that famous eluded James until he was 27.
Accordingly, root for Royce White because, by doing so, you root for yourself as a consumer of the NBA experience. Because, no matter to what degree you invest in White’s personal struggles, rooting for his professional success is tantamount to rooting for the sport to provide you the opportunity to enjoy something remarkable – and ultimately, isn’t that why we watch in the first place?
Root for Royce White to succeed.
In the end, what do you really have to gain by watching him fail?