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  • Writer's pictureMike Simmons

The meaning of true friendship

Why friends matter in a digital age

From an audio story by

Wang, Shirley. “My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley.” WBUR Only a Game. Retrieved 18 December 2018 from

On December 14th, 2018 a story was broadcasted by freelance reporter Shirley Wang on the public radio sports show Only a Game. The story had a unique title, “My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley”, the heartwarming fourteen minute story took listeners on an unexpected journey about the power of sports and friendship.This story goes beyond the common narrative of sports stars and is a beautiful story of friendship and character with major life lessons.

This is so much more than a sports story. It is a story about the power and impact people can have on one another through friendship. This is also one of the only sports stories where a cat litter scientist is central to the relationship. At the core of this story there is an unlikely friendship born out of a chance meeting at a Sacramento hotel between Charles Barkley, one of the most recognizable basketball personalities, and Lin Wang, a Chinese-American cat litter scientist and basketball fan.

After talking for hours during the initial visit the two men exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch. The relationship grew as Lin visited Charles on the set of his TNT NBA show while visiting Atlanta and exchanged text messages. The two men connected on a range of topics, even though they undoubtedly came from vastly different upbringing.

Charles Barkley grew up in small town in Alabama and was mainly raised by his mother while Lin grew up in China before immigrating to America to pursue his academic career. The two saw themselves as outsiders who defied the odds to become successful but more importantly men who were valued members of their communities and fathers.

It was the connection as fathers and family men that became the crucial part of this relationship that defined their special bond and the power relationships can have. When Lin’s daughter Shirley called to speak with Charles a question she had was what could her dad and a former NBA player have in common? It turned out that family was the key to the relationship and that the two shared stories and spoke fondly of the successes of their own children.

In 2015 Charles Barkley lost his mother, Charcey Glenn, his friend Lin flew across the country to be with his friend during this difficult time and attended her funeral in Leeds, AL. This was no small feat as Lin heard about the news and flew from his Iowa home to Alabama to be with his friend in a time of need.

Around this same time Lin received some somber news. He had cancer and the prognosis did not look good. Although he waited to tell his friend, he did eventually share the news with Charles who in turn told him that it was nothing to hide and that he should have told him right away. This unlikely correspondence continued through June 2018 when Lin passed away right after his favorite team,the Golden State Warriors, won the NBA title. A funeral service was held the following day among family and friends in Iowa was a 6’ 6” former NBA basketball player who was also in attendance and spoke about his friend Lin. The ability to console each other’s families in the time of need connected Lin and Charles forever.

The piece of the story that struck me as most genuine is how both men were able to connect and provide necessary friendship during difficult times. Lin and Charles enjoyed the company and friendship they had. The thing to take away from this friendship is that by speaking up and being open to having a conversation the possibilities are endless. I look at the world today and see constant streams of data through social media, news sources, and longform stories. Sometimes the ability to step back and have a conversation, a genuine one in person, with someone will create a lasting bond and a story that will make you a better person and help create strong bonds within your family and friend groups.

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