How an Iowa man became Charles Barkley’s pal

The weekend tear-duct check came from Shirley Wang, who told the story on WBUR’s Only a Game broadcast about her dad, a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa, who somehow became Charles Barkley’s friend.

Lin Wang was on a business trip in Sacramento, Calif. Barkley was staying at the same hotel.

They chatted in an empty bar; then they went to dinner. They liked each other and kept in touch.

Wang’s colleagues didn’t believe he was friends with an NBA star but it didn’t matter to him.

When Barkley’s mother died in 2015, Wang showed up at the funeral in the middle of Nowhere, Alabama.

“For your dad to take the time to come to the funeral meant a great deal to me,” Barkley told Wang’s daughter.

Then Wang got cancer; he didn’t tell his friend.

“I called him and got mad at him when I found out,” Barkley said. “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.’ ”

Barkley didn’t know Wang was watching him every night on his TNT NBA broadcast, laughing while dying.

Mr. Wang was watching the Golden State Warriors playoff game last June when he died.

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.

“What did you and my dad talk about?” Shirley asked Barkley for the weekend broadcast.

“We talked about you and your brother,” Barkley said.

It turned out, there was a lot Wang the younger didn’t know about Wang the elder. She learned about him from Charles Barkley.

At the funeral, people shared memories of my dad and made me realize that, for example, he was not just a cat litter chemist — but an industry-changing scientist with a Ph.D. And not just an immigrant — but someone who reached out to Chinese newcomers. And not just a thoughtful guy — but someone people trusted for advice. I realized that, even after he passed away, I would continue to learn things about my dad.

Before Barkley and I hung up, he had one more thing to say:

“Hey, listen. You stay in touch. Please tell your mom I said hello. Give her a big kiss. Tell your brother I said hello. And listen: Just keep doing you. It’s your time now. Don’t forget that. That’s the most important thing.

“Your dad prepared you to take care of yourself. He prepared you for that. I was blessed to know him — and know you, too.”

“Thank you for your time,” I said.