SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Royce White leaned back in a chair in the Sacramento Kings locker room, looked at the veteran players around him and joked about why he'd be the one getting an interview request.
"I'm just a guy on a 10-day contract," he said, chuckling.
The 16th overall pick of the 2012 draft best known for his contentious and public disagreement with the Houston Rockets over how to treat his anxiety disorder, which includes a fear of flying, is trying to make a new name for himself with the Sacramento Kings late this season.
Not only must he prove he can still play, White has to show he can handle the rigors of the league's schedule, including his first road trip this week. He's on his second 10-day deal with the Kings this month, and he knows nothing beyond that is guaranteed.
"Those thoughts do come where it's like, 'If this doesn't work out, will I even go at it again?'" White said.
The Rockets knew what they were getting when they selected White out of Iowa State two years ago. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward freely acknowledged his condition in pre-draft interviews, most notably a plane phobia that triggers panic attacks — which can speed up his heart rate, send a tingling feeling to his extremities and lead to a cold sweat.
White sat out the first week of training camp after asking for 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.
The dispute between Houston and White, who often took to Twitter to express his displeasure, could never be resolved. He was traded to Philadelphia in July, and the 76ers waived him before the start of the season.
The 22-year-old forward's stay in Sacramento, about as far removed from the national NBA landscape as one can get, has been far quieter than his previous stops.
Sacramento first signed White to a 10-day contract March 6, and he immediately reported to the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League. He started four games for Reno, averaging 8.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 24.8 minutes before getting called up to the Kings last week.
White has played in the final minute of the past two games — his first action ever in the NBA — after the outcomes had been decided.
"It feels a lot different," White said. "In all fairness to Houston, they were in a much different position. A lot of things, they couldn't make a ruling on themselves as much as the league. They had to wait on a lot of OKs and things from people. It was a real complex situation. But it feels very different. Everything's different. The organization's different. The city's different. The people are different. My teammates are different."
Is he different?
"I'm probably the least different out of the entire equation," White said. "But I'm in a different place. I'm definitely feeling more comfortable with the ability to have a successful career in this league."
Whether White can carve out a career remains unclear.
Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro said he doesn't want to make too much out of White's addition, that he's just a player on his second 10-day contract and the team is giving him a chance. Kings coach Michael Malone echoed those sentiments, saying White's signing "is about him as a basketball player."
White stressed that he's thankful for the opportunity to play for an NBA team again but, just as importantly, to play for an NBA team that is willing to discuss and address his mental-health concerns. He also said he will be at every Kings game if he's signed for the rest of the season, though travel details still need to be worked out.
After hosting New York on Wednesday night, the Kings head out on a three-game road trip: at Oklahoma City on Friday, at Dallas on Saturday and at New Orleans on Monday.
White said the Kings will decide whether he makes the trip, and he has no problems traveling across the country. He declined to discuss what steps he'd take before boarding an airplane, but he noted that he took a flight from his hometown in Minneapolis to Sacramento after the Kings signed him.
How long his latest stint in the NBA lasts will not define him, White said, and it will not change his stance as an outspoken advocate for the mentally ill and their legal rights in the workplace.
"My advocacy for mental health will be there regardless of whether I'm playing or not," White said. "If it takes this platform to boost or activate what we need to do mental-health wise, then that's not good enough, then somebody else isn't doing their job. Those questions will be there, and I'm still willing to answer those questions. But right now it's just about the Kings and playing."