The Rockets knew what they were getting when they selected White out of Iowa State with the 16th overall pick. White freely acknowledged his condition and issues in pre-draft interviews, including a fear of flying that triggered panic attacks. When he flew — or anticipated flying on the ride to the airport — his heart rate would speed up, he’d feel tingling in his extremities and he’d break into cold sweats.
After he was drafted, he flew to Las Vegas for the team’s summer-league games and to a rookie orientation in New York. As training camp approached, though, White began to have reservations about handling the demands of the NBA schedule. And it wasn’t just the intimidating itinerary of flights required during an NBA season.
“If I’m stressed out, if I have an anxiety disorder that gets out of control,” he said in an interview in October, “how dangerous am I? So tackling it from the front is important. That’s what I kind of did, to take care of my own health first.”
He sat out the first week of training camp after asking for the special protocols, including permission to travel by bus on road trips. He also wanted an independent physician to have the final say about when he could play.
White argued that his mental illness was no different than a physical injury, and the law sees it the same way. But Alex Long, a University of Tennessee law professor who teaches disability law, said making “reasonable accommodations” for someone with a mental disorder is more challenging than providing for someone with a physical disability.
“In theory, the law treats both of those impairments the same way,” Long said. “If I’m in a wheelchair, it’s fairly easy for an employer to make modifications to the workplace. They can put in a ramp, they can widen the aisles or something like that.