The lasting friendship between a cat litter scientist from Iowa and NBA legend Charles Barkley has captured the internet’s heart.
Last week, during an episode of NPR’s Only a Game, journalist Shirley Wang revealed that her father, Lin Wang, and Barkley, who has had a successful career as a television NBA analyst since retiring from a storied career as a basketball player, met in Sacramento, where Lin Wang was on a business trip.
Wang, a big fan of Barkley’s, asked to take a photo. They did, and decided to get dinner together after striking up a conversation.
“And, before we know it, we looked at each other, like, ‘Yo, man, I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner,’” Barkley told Shirley.
“It turned into a two-hour dinner. And then we actually went back to the bar and just sit there and talked for another couple of hours. And the rest is history.”
— NPR's Only A Game (@OnlyAGameNPR) December 15, 2018
The men became fast friends. Before long, Barkley was introducing Lin to his inner circle, including fellow NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.
Lin also attended Barkley’s mother’s funeral in 2015. Barkley recalls his friend’s presence “meant a great deal to me.”
“Your dad is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Barkley said of his friend.
“I’m not just saying that — I mean, think about it: It’s fun to be with your friends, you know? ’Cause, I don’t have that many friends that I want to be around, to be honest with you.”
“I mean, you know a lot of people. But when you go spend time with your friends, it’s a whole different animal.”
Lin was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. But he did not tell Barkley right away.
“I was, like, ‘Dude, we’re friends. You can tell me. You’re not bothering me. You know me well enough — if you were bothering me, I would tell you you were bothering me’.”
Sadly, Lin died in June 2018. His funeral was held the day after the Golden State Warriors—his favorite team—won the NBA finals.
Charles Barkley delivered the eulogy for his friend.
Here is video of Charles Barkley speaking at Lin Wang’s funeral.
— Michael Blevins (@mikeblevins) December 15, 2018
Journalist Shirley Wang said:
“Later, after it all, I texted Barkley and asked him: ‘Why my dad? Why did he matter so much to you?’ And recently, I called him up and asked: ‘What did you even have to talk about?'”
“Well, I think — first of all, clearly, he was a fan,” Barkley said.
“But I think the main thing we talked about was you and your brother.”
“What did you guys talk about — what did he say?” she asked.
“I think it was more that he was proud,” Barkley said.
“Because I’ve got a daughter, too. I’m just really, really proud of her, because I think she’s a good person. And your dad was so proud of you and your brother.”
The story has captivated social media since it was published on Friday.
So now I'm cryin… great story of real friendship https://t.co/QneJZkcvdE
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) December 15, 2018
Oh my God, this is the most beautiful story about friendship, and it made me cry this morning. Starring Charles Barkley and the author’s dad. https://t.co/LFfjizV6c3
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) December 15, 2018
People who know the athlete and commentator were not surprised however.
This story reminds me of something Dave Coskey, the former marketing director of the #Sixers, once said: "Most pro athletes are a–holes who want you to think they're good guys. Charles Barkley is a good guy who wants you to think he's an a–hole." https://t.co/hjYWonApXM
— Mike Sielski (@MikeSielski) December 15, 2018
This is the Charles Barkley that very few know. He is one the nicest and most sincere people I have ever met. Simple said he is the best and this story gives you a glimpse into his heart. https://t.co/QgWb6JRHDr
— Billy King (@bkdefend) December 15, 2018
Barkley’s a stand-up guy!
Charles Barkley has always been like that. Once in Philadelphia he got talking to his waiter, who was working his way through school. By the end of dinner Barkley quietly insisted on paying his school bill.
— Richard M. Nixon (@dick_nixon) December 15, 2018
#CharlesBarkley played for the #PhoenixSuns when I worked there. When I filled in doing weather on a local tv station for the first time, he raced up from the practice court when i walked by to tell me I did a good job. The only player who even noticed. This does not surprise me. https://t.co/owOPvQVDY0
— Kathleen Bade (@KathleenFOX5) December 15, 2018
Years ago a friend was working on the release of a prominent NBA player’s new basketball shoe. To promote the shoe, she sent hundreds of pairs out to local & national media. Only one person called her to thank her for the free shoes: Charles Barkley. https://t.co/upPagOMdwL
— Tim Ring (@timringTV) December 15, 2018
This is the sort of wholesome content we love during the holiday season.
May Lin Wang rest in peace. He sounds like he was a truly fortunate and wonderful man.