He laughs now that "15 or 16" NBA teams offered to fly him to their cities for workouts — only so they could inquire about his fear of flying. A few months ago, that idea scared him to death.
"I had to stop those," he said. "It was too much. They made me anxious, and then wanted to ask me about anxiety, you know?"
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey called him a "top-five" talent and a "pretty unique player" at the introductory news conference for White and fellow first-round draft picks Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Jones.
Morey said then that Fred Hoiberg, White's coach at Iowa State, reassured the Rockets about the anxiety issues. Hoiberg played for current Rockets coach Kevin McHale in Minnesota in 2004-05.
"We got comfortable with him," Morey said at the time.
Hoiberg did not return a phone message from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Over the summer, it seemed as if White had learned to corral his "aerophobia." He flew with the team to its summer league mini-season in Las Vegas, then flew to New York City for NBA rookie orientation. As training camp approached, though, something didn't feel right.
"I was just feeling like, 'You know what? I don't see how this is going to work,'" he said. "It's honest to just say, 'I have some anxiety.' It's a whole different level of honesty to say to the Rockets, 'I have anxiety, and this is what I need to do to be healthy and can you accommodate me?' I felt that it was necessary to take that step."
He signed a standard contract with the Rockets, and it made no mention of his disorder. He doesn't expect to amend that contract, or draft a new one to lay out his travel arrangement with the team.
"To go back and rewrite a contract would be extremely inconvenient," he said. "We're kind of going ahead in a good faith kind of a deal. Putting it in writing is going to be tough."
The league wouldn't comment on White's situation. White said the NBA has "approved some things," but hasn't been deeply involved in his discussions with the Rockets.
Neither the NBA nor the NFL could cite any players who made requested similar travel requests to their teams in the past. White's anxiety, however, is not unprecedented among professional athletes.
Former European soccer star Dennis Bergkamp was nicknamed "the Non-Flying Dutchman" after he developed a fear of flying during the 1994 World Cup. During the tournament, a journalist flying with the team from Orlando, Fla., to Dallas joked about a bomb on board and the flight was delayed. The plane also encountered engine trouble during the flight, and Bergkamp never flew again.
White can't pinpoint the moment when plane travel became so terrifying. He was 10 years old on Sept. 11, 2001 and he vividly remembers watching the horror of that day unfold with his mother, Rebecca.
"As much as I want to say that's not it," he said, "I can't deny that every time I get on a plane, I wonder if somebody on this flight has bad intentions. That's just being honest."
But White says there's more to it than that.
As a prep standout, White flew often during summers to basketball camps with his AAU team. The panic attacks started setting in before flights, on flights, whenever he thought about air travel.
"I wouldn't let anybody know I was having a panic attack. I had to kind of keep it in," he said. "That's how I built up the fear of planes. I'm scared of heights, yes. Planes make me uneasy. Before I started having panic attacks, planes never bothered me to the point where I felt it was unhealthy. Now, I've built up a thing where I feel like planes and traveling, basically represent death."
No single episode prompted him to reach out to the Rockets. He hasn't had a full-blown panic attack since he started taking Fluoxetine, a generic form of Prozac, three years ago.
But he started thinking about his future — five years from now, 10 years from now. He's educated himself on mental illness, able to rattle off sobering statistics from memory, and he's learned about people whose lives were ruined because of it.