Cue the ugly cry tears.
The story of an unlikely yet genuine friendship between a cat litter scientist from Iowa and NBA legend Charles Barkley has made the entire internet’s heart grow three sizes.
In Friday’s episode of the NPR sports show “Only A Game,” journalist Shirley Wang revealed the yearslong friendship between her father, Lin Wang, and the basketball star turned TV personality.
She began by describing the scene at Barkley’s mother’s funeral in 2015. The player’s friends “couldn’t quite place” this mysterious guest who wasn’t from Barkley’s hometown of Leeds, Alabama.
“You know, it was obviously a very difficult time,” Barkley told the journalist. “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.’”
Wang explained that the pair’s long-standing bond had begun at a hotel bar. Barkley had been making an appearance at a charity event while Lin Wang was on a business trip. Her father, a longtime fan, went to take a picture with the basketball player. The two ended up talking at the bar, which eventually evolved into a dinner outing.
“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,” Barkley told the journalist.
The two met up over the years, and Lin Wang even got to meet with other ballers like Shaquille O’Neal and kick back on the set of Barkley’s TNT show “Inside the NBA.”
“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.”
In May 2016, Lin Wang himself went through health troubles and was diagnosed with cancer. He never told Barkley about his illness, and when the player eventually found out, he was angry.
“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,’” the player recalled to Shirley Wang.
But, the journalist said, “what Barkley didn’t know was that my dad watched him almost every night on TNT. And while he rested and healed, my dad was laughing along with Barkley. He kept my dad company.”
Lin Wang died in June 2018, and the funeral took place the day after his beloved Golden State Warriors won the NBA finals. Barkley showed up and even delivered a eulogy.
Though the pair had wildly different career paths, Lin Wang, a Chinese immigrant who settled in Iowa in the ’90s, had believed that Barkley’s rise from a tough childhood through hard work made them parallels.
“Tough life for him. But he’s well-respected professionally. And that’s his story,” Lin Wang had said. “So, to me, as an Asian in the U.S., I felt as long as I do a good job, people will respect me.”
The story has gone viral since it was published on Friday, with many noting how pure the friendship was. And people who know Barkley said that the bond didn’t surprise them in the least.
To read the entire transcript, visit “Only A Game” here.