• Sumo

By Ken Reed

Mary Pilon has a great long piece in Esquire about former NBA player Royce White and his ongoing battle with the NBA over how the league treats players with mental illness challenges.

White currently plays in the National Basketball League of Canada for the London Lightning. He appreciates how the Canadians address his mental health issues, even if he makes a lot less money playing in the NBL. White believes he’s already lost tens of millions in wages because of his stance on the NBA’s unenlightened approach to mental illness.

The salary cap in the Canadian league is $150,000 Canadian dollars (about $110,000 U.S.), a fraction of the NBA’s minimum $543,471. White’s decision not to return to the NBA has baffled many in the basketball world. But the Canadians offered something more valuable than money, White says: a robust mental health care system for players.

White is very public about his call for the NBA to develop a comprehensive mental-health treatment plan. He says he won’t go back to the NBA until it happens. His beef with the NBA all along has been that the league simply ignores the topic of mental illness.

“I find it offensive that they don’t feel that they are more than a sports league,” says White of the NBA.

“They tell the players to ‘represent yourself, your family, your community, this organization, in a way that you’d be proud of.’ So that lets me know you understand it’s bigger than the game, bigger than four quarters, bigger than practice, bigger than the training you do. It’s bigger than the money you make.”

Meanwhile, he’s happy playing in the NBL because he’s happy about how he’s treated by Canadians, the league and his coach, Kyle Julius.

“It was like treating anything else, like an injury or any issue,” says Julius of the Lightning’s philosophy on mental illness.

That seems like it would be a common-sense, humanistic approach to mental illness, but it appears to be way too progressive for the NBA at this point.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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