A fan encounter turned into a powerful friendship for a cat litter scientist and Charles Barkley — and their story just might tug at your heartstrings.
For the “Only a Game” podcast on NPR’s WBUR station, Shirley Wang shared the moving story of the basketball icon’s bond with her Iowa father Lin Wang.
It all started in Sacramento, California, where Barkley was speaking at an event and Wang was going on a business trip. Lin spotted Barkley in the lobby of a hotel.
“I just went to say hi and take a picture with him,” Lin said, according to Shirley.
“I was just sitting at the bar,” Barkley told Shirley. “And me and your dad were the only two people in there. And we just sit down and started talking.”
“And, before we know it, we looked at each other, like, ‘Yo, man, I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner,’ ” Barkley continued. “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.”
They spent time together for the duration of their stays in Sacramento. Lin, an immigrant from China, told Shirley that he and Barkley connected since they both had to overcome adversity. Barkley suggested that he liked Lin because they were both proud fathers.
When they parted, Barkley handed Lin his number and encouraged him to call if he was ever in Atlanta, New York City or Phoenix. Barkley and Lin saw each other on and off in the years to come, including at the studio of Barkley’s show Inside the NBA.
“I mean, it was just a fun time,” Barkley told Shirley. “My friends — Shaq, Ernie, Kenny — they enjoyed just meeting him.”
Back home, Lin liked to tell his friends about his kinship with Barkley, but people often did not think he was telling the truth.
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In June 2015, Barkley’s mother Charcey Glenn died, and Lin jetted to Leeds, Alabama, to attend the funeral.
“You know, it was obviously a very difficult time,” Barkley said. “And the next thing I know, he shows up. Everybody’s like, ‘Who’s the Asian dude over there?’ I just started laughing. I said, ‘That’s my boy, Lin.’ They’re, like, ‘How do you know him?’ I said, ‘It’s a long story.’ “
Less than a year later, in May 2016, Lin was diagnosed with cancer. He watched Barkley’s show, but he did not tell the former athlete about his health woes.
“I called him and got mad at him when I found out,” Barkley told Shirley. “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.’ “
Lin died in June 2018 after the NBA finals. Barkley showed up at the funeral in Iowa City, Iowa, according to the “Only a Game” piece.
“It gives me great memories and great joy to know that I was a friend of his,” Barkley told Shirley. “Just hearing about him at the funeral — what he had accomplished and what he was trying to help other people accomplish, just made me even — I wished he bragged more about himself.”
In a YouTube video of Barkley’s eulogy, the athlete waxed poetic about Wang. “I’m so blessed to know him as a person,” he said.
“He was a selfless man. He really cared about other people, and the world is gonna be a little less happier because he’s not here,” Barkley continued. “I’ve never seen that guy in a bad mood. … If you were around him, you were laughing the whole time. His personality was contagious.”
“We’re already going to have great memories,” Barkley continued in the eulogy. “Best to the family.”
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