Friendship is a funny thing. It strikes at the strangest times, for the strangest reasons, and to the people you would sometimes least expect. But when it does happen, it is truly a beautiful thing.
That’s what the world found out this past weekend when audio journalist Shirley Wang shared the amazing story of her late father, a kitty litter scientist from Iowa, who just happened to be friends with… former professional basketball player Charles Barkley?
Yes, the Charles Barkley. Of course, when Lin Wang would tell his daughter he was friends with Barkley, Shirley had the reaction we probably all would have if our dads casually told us they were friends with an NBA Hall-of-Famer: Yeah, right.
In fact, Shirley said that nobody really believed her father. Not that it bothered him, or prevented him from pulling the ultimate dad move and making slideshows about their friendship.
But when Lin Wang died in June 2018 after a two-year battle with cancer, Barkley showed up to Wang’s funeral, and even gave a short eulogy.
“Something like Charles Barkley showing up at your dad’s funeral, that’s a full perspective-shifter,” Wang told The Washington Post. “I knew there were a lot more questions I needed to be asking.”
So Shirley reviewed old recordings she had made with her dad and talked to Barkley on the phone. As it turns out, Barkley and Lin Wang met in a Sacramento hotel bar one night in 2014 and bonded over dinner. And a friendship was born.
Now, at first, it might not seem like the two had much in common. Lin Wang was a Chinese immigrant who moved to Iowa and became, I kid you not, a kitty litter chemist. Barkley is one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, an Emmy-winning sports analyst, has hosted “Saturday Night Live” and was rumored to be dating Madonna at one point.
But the two somehow became friends anyway. Barkley brought Lin to meet his fellow basketball analysts. Lin went to the funeral of Barkley’s mother. They talked about being parents.
“I think the main thing we talked about was you and your brother,” Barkley told Shirley. “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.”
So Shirley wrote up a piece using recordings of her father and Barkley and published a piece for WBUR on Dec. 14, titled simply, “My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley.” You can read it, but to get the full effect you really should listen to it, if only to hear Barkley’s signature drawl excitedly saying, “That’s my boy Lin!”
A story about my dad’s most brag-worthy friendship will air LIVE with @OnlyAGameNPR tmr morning. It’ll be a wild one. Look up ur station to listen: https://t.co/N3sObFOanv…
IOWA: @IowaPublicRadio 910AM Sat at 6am CT
BOSTON: @WBUR FM 90.9 Sat at 7am and 7pm EST pic.twitter.com/01h0u5iGrA
— Shirley Wang 王雪丽 🍚 (@shirleyshirlw) December 14, 2018
But trust me, you’re going to want to have a box of tissues nearby. The story will pull at your heartstrings.
The tale of these two unlikely friends quickly went viral over the weekend, and the internet caught all the feels.
I’ll never forget this piece or that it led to this exchange with my wife. “Ugh, what’s making you cry now?” “A story about Charles Barkley” https://t.co/KuKta3HzC9
— Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers) December 15, 2018
So now I'm cryin… great story of real friendship https://t.co/QneJZkcvdE
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) December 15, 2018
“I can’t believe I’ve made so many people cry,” Shirley told The Post. “I don’t know how to respond to that. I’ve wanted to give everyone a virtual hug.”
Even people who just so happened to come across Barkley and Lin hanging out started sending in photos of the two together.
Shirley, I met your dad and Charles at a hotel randomly one night in Atlanta. Both Charles and your dad were extremely nice and a ton of fun.
Although our paths only crossed the one time, he seemed like a wonderful person. You wrote a beautiful tribute to your dad. pic.twitter.com/d3sMfggS88
— Brien Davis (@briendavis2) December 15, 2018
“It’s such a simple story, a story that’s been part of my life, and it’s just an added bonus that it has resonated with so many people from so many different corners of the Internet,” Shirley told The Post. “I’m just trying to take all these moments to talk to my dad and feel him with me and connect with him more, so I can continue to understand.”
So thank you to Shirley for sharing the story with us. And thank you to Chuck and Lin, who are proof that we can all find something in common if we take the time to sit down and listen to each other.