Charles Barkley and ... a cat litter scientist from Iowa? Yes, and it's a touching story, USA Today reports. Even journalist Shirley Wang, the scientist's daughter, didn't buy that her dad had befriended Barkley in a Sacramento bar, attended his mom's funeral, and hung out with the retired NBA star now and again. But dad Lin Wang shrugged off teasing from unbelievers, she writes at WBUR. "We agree with each other [on] a lot of point of views," he told her about Barkley. "Tough life for him. But he's well-respected professionally. ... So, to me, as an Asian in the US, I felt as long as I do a good job, people will respect me." Yet the Ph.D. kept one secret from Barkley: his cancer diagnosis. In his final two years, Wang watched a lot of Barkley's Inside the NBA show on TNT. "My dad was laughing along with Barkley," writes Shirley. "He kept my dad company."
When Barkley arrived at Wang's funeral in the woods outside Iowa City, towering over the room at 6-foot-6, there was no more doubting. "I have never seen that guy in a bad mood," said Barkley in his eulogy. "...If you were around him, you were laughing the whole time." But Shirley still wondered, what on Earth did they talk about? Surprisingly, it was her and her brother: "Listen: As an adult—and you’re too young to understand this now—all you want is your kids to be happy," Barkley told her later. "That’s what you work for. To give your kids everything in life." As they wrapped up, he told her to "just keep doing you. It's your time now. Don't forget that." And she walked away feeling like more things were possible in her world: "A world where someone like him could just say something cool, something charming, and befriend someone like Charles Barkley." (Meanwhile, an NBA great floated a conspiracy about moon landings.)