Unexpected friendships usually turn out to be the best.
That’s what freelance journalist Shirley Wang discovered about the relationship between her late father, Lin Wang, and former basketball star and sports analyst Charles Barkley.
Shirley Wang’s story about her father’s close friendship with Barkley was published Friday on Boston NPR affiliate WBUR and quickly went viral over the weekend.
“It’s just really insane,” Wang told CNN on Sunday. “So many people are reading it. I feel really lucky I can grieve so publicly.”
Wang, 22, writes that her father and Barkley met in Sacramento, California, in 2014 in a hotel lobby bar. Wang’s father was on a business trip and Barkley was speaking at a charity event in Sacramento. The two just started talking, Barkley told Wang. The meetup at the bar turned into a two-hour dinner and a yearslong friendship.
Wang writes that her father would get together with Barkley whenever they were both in Atlanta, Phoenix or New York.
Her father’s co-workers often didn’t believe he was friends with Barkley, Wang wrote, but he didn’t mind.
“He even made a slideshow of photos of him and Barkley together for our community’s Chinese New Year celebration — totally irrelevant to the holiday,” Wang wrote.
Wang said her father attended the funeral of Barkley’s mother in June 2015 in Alabama. When Wang’s father died this past June, Barkley attended and spoke at the funeral in Iowa.
Barkley declined an interview for this story, but Wang said she spoke to him on Saturday, telling him how big the story became.
“He said ‘more people should know your dad,'” Wang said. “He doesn’t have to say that, he doesn’t have to do any of this, but he does.”
Wang said she decided to write the story for her own sake.
“I just wanted to write or work on something where I could sit next to my dad and put a mic next to him and ask him questions,” she said.
“Friendships can be found anywhere and really weird things happen when you connect with interesting people,” Wang said.
Wang said she has gotten praise from all over the world, from Australia to Hong Kong. She’s also spoken with some of her journalist idols.
“All of my Asian-American journalist icons have either followed me, retweeted me or messaged me about the story,” she said. “I can’t believe people that I respect so much and follow are reading my stuff. It’s just incredible to me.”
What Wang has really enjoyed, though, is learning more about her father, who she said was very kind and friendly. So, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to do something like spark conversations on the elevator, make side comments at college tours or befriend Charles Barkley.
“There’s always things to learn about my dad even though he’s passed away,” she said.