Charles Barkley's incredible, unique friendship with an Iowa cat litter scientist
Charles Barkley is one of the more likable NBA analysts and former players out there.
After reading this incredible NPR first-person account about the former NBA star and his unlikely friendship with a cat litter scientist from Muscatine, Iowa, described as “everyone’s suburban dad,” it’s easy to see why.
Barkely, who played in the league from 1984-2000 and is currently a NBA analyst on TNT, first met Lin Wang in a hotel bar in California. Wang, who loved watching Barkley play, was just going over to quickly say hello and maybe grab a photo.
Almost instantly, they hit it off.
“It was, like, one of the most random things,” Barkley recalled with a laugh.
“I was on a business trip,” my dad said, “and stayed in one of the hotels and was walking in the lobby, and I saw Charles Barkley.”
“I was in Sacramento speaking at a charity event,” Barkley said.
“So, I just went to say hi and take a picture with him,” my dad said.
“I was just sitting at the bar,” Barkley said. “And me and your dad were the only two people in there. And we just sit down and started talking.”
“He’s a super nice guy,” my dad said.
“And, before we know it, we looked at each other, like, ‘Yo, man, I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner,’ ” Barkley said. “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.”
From there, the friendship took off. Barkley and Wang would hang out anytime they were in the same city over the next several years. Barkley even brought him to the TNT set and introduced him to Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, the rest of Barkley’s TNT crew — who loved him.
Wang even made the trip to Leeds, Alabama, in 2015 to attend Barkley’s mom’s funeral — much to the surprise of many in attendance.
“You know, it was obviously a very difficult time,” Barkley told me recently. “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, though, had been diagnosed with cancer in 2016 after doctors found tumors in his heart. He died earlier this year.
Barkley, even though the funeral was the day after the NBA Finals, instantly made the trip from Cleveland to Eastern Iowa.
The funeral was set near the outskirts of Iowa City in a house by the woods. I was talking to my childhood friend when she suddenly looked stunned. I turned to look behind me.
And standing there — drenched in sweat from the Iowa summer, towering over everyone in the room at 6 feet, 6 inches tall — was Charles Barkley.
“I had not met anybody in your family,” Barkley said. “I didn’t know anybody there.”
Everyone watched, astonished, as this man — this man we only knew from TV, this worldwide celebrity — walked down the aisle, looked at us and sighed.
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