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My Dad's Friendship with Charles Barkley (wbur.org)
467 points by weitingliu on Dec 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 40 comments

I watch Inside the NBA almost religiously - it's such a perfect show sometimes.

It's not your typical ESPN or Fox Sports commentary show where an anchor talks about a player's "tenacious tenacity". It's a show that presents itself as a place where four friends talk about a shared interest.

To accomplish this, they need to be comfortable talking to each other without being confined to the sports equivalent of political correctness - to have unconstrained degrees of freedom in criticism, humor and general skylarking. This happens oftentimes to the point of controversy, with Charles usually being involved at the center of any such controversy.

This story is beautiful, but to anyone that is a fan of Charles Barkley, it is unsurprising. He's always been a beacon of genuineness through his time as a player, as a commentator and this article simply extends that same light to his personal life.

Actual chemistry between the folks on screen that produces results that seem like ... actual chemistry seems really undervalued / rare these days.

I love reading / watching sports.... sports shows that aren't the sports them-self are almost always so bad and wonky.

Inside the NBA is a noteworthy example of what it should be.

It’s a jewel. One of my favorite moments and a sample of that chemistry for the interested..


> actual chemistry seems really undervalued / rare these days.

It's because they are almost always forced board-room designed politically correct arrangements of hosts: the old white guy with plenty of industry experience, the sassy girl who keeps the guys in check, and third is usually an ex-athlete (usually black) guy OR (more often on radio) the "wild and crazy" guy who says wacky stuff.

They aren't chosen for their chemistry together, existing friendships, or w/e else makes people gel... but instead for fitting some Hollywood-esque pre-existing model that checks off all the checkboxes.

NBA inside works because they have a couple of rare personalities you wouldnt normally find in the usual talking-head talent pools with Shaq and Barkley plus a really great "old industry experienced guy" Ernie Johnson... (and honourable mention neutral guy Kenny Smith).

I like Skip and Shannon.

ESPN FC crew is also great for those who watch soccer/football.

Rings Erneh

I had a very similar one-time experience with Charles Barkley. I was a regular at the bar at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South in NYC, and was introduced to Barkley by the bartender, who often connected solo diners/imbibers with each other for conversation.

We had a nice conversation about NYC, vegas, gambling, friendship, etc. along with a number of tequila shots. He was extremely down to earth while not pretending like he was anything other than a world famous former basketball player.

We should also never forget the classic gaming inspired by Charles Barkley - Barkley, Shut Up and Jam![1], or the spin-off RPG, Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden[2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barkley_Shut_Up_and_Jam! [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barkley,_Shut_Up_and_Jam:_Gaid...

The plot of Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden sounds awesome:

"The game starts off in 2041, twelve years prior to the main part of the game, in "post-cyberpocalyptic Neo New York". Charles Barkley performed a powerful dunk called a Chaos Dunk at a basketball game, inadvertently killing most of the people in attendance. As a result, basketball was outlawed and many basketball players were hunted down and killed. In 2053, another Chaos Dunk is performed in Manhattan, killing millions. Barkley is blamed for the Chaos Dunk and is hunted by the B-Ball Removal Department, led by Michael Jordan."

(It just gets weirder from there)

This is a lovely and charming story...but. The whole premise is that the relationship between the suburban dad and the celebrity was somehow weird and unbelievable. I see that, but it's a shame we can't turn the world on its head somehow so that it would be just everyday normality. Celebrity culture has elevated some people to a kind of otherness. But they're just people.

In the end it's a story of a dude who ran into another dude and they hit it off over drinks and dinner. Then over the years they'd catch up and share stories of their lives and their children.

But the difference here is one guy is a celebrity and probably had a very very busy day to day schedule. Even then, he'd make time to meet up with Mr. Wang when they were in the same town.

I think the story is interesting because the two men came from very different backgrounds, yet discovered lots of common ground (minority skin color, achieved success despite modest upbringing, pride in their children). It's a story of a good friendship, one where you'd deliver a glowing eulogy at the other's funeral, if it ever came to that. I mean, I'm not sure how many folks I have outside of my own family that I'd have enough to say to deliver a eulogy. Maybe I need to make more friends?

I think the "very very very busy schedule" misses the point. Everbody has stuff to do, and things that are hard or (almost) impossible to reschedule. But everybody has a personal life, and can and will take time for it. One thing I sometimes say (not sure if it's from somewhere else, and I certainly failt to live up to it myself, sometimes): "You don't have time, you take it". Things just need to be more important than what's on your calendar.

Well said. I think what I was trying to say was, despite our common perception of a celebrity's busy life (full of parties, speaking engagements, sponsor events), Sir Charles is just a normal person like us. He made time to hang out with his friends.

It’s not just celebrity, but two guys from completely different and far separated social spheres, managing to strike up and more importantly, keep a friendship going despite the distance.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect famous people — or anyone, for that matter — to stay in touch with literally anyone who wants to befriend them. Our attention and time is a finite resource, we have to make hard choices and commitments about who we give to and withdraw from. This is a story that wouldn’t happen without celebrity. Not just because Mr. Wang would not have otherwise recognized and talked to Barkley in their chance encounter, but seeing Barkley on TV continually helped keep the familiarity going, even if it was a mostly one-way street.

I bet Barkley gets many solicitations for his attention, and on the surface Wang doesn’t seem any different than other fans. But I think Wang showed his the genuineness of his friendship by showing up for the funeral service for Barkley’s mom. Anyone, fan or friend, could have seen the news and booked a flight to be there. That Wang dropped whatever work he was doing to be there for someone who he wasn’t close to (socially/geospatially) was a strong sign of how much he cared about Barkley.

Usually human lives are a continuous process of self-selecting our social circle to include those most similar to us in most ways. This is unusual because the two friends were so different, but still found common ground. Celebrities become g friends with non celebrities is also rare because there is always the sense that the ordinary person wants fame or money by association from the friendship, which was even true in this case to some extent (Wang proudly showing a slide show of photos with Barkley).

I think this tells the story of the culture of celebrity in the United States as much as a private story between these two people.

It is also "traditional" celebrity interaction. Where the celebrity achieved status from professional skill building and achievement and largely unknowable through social media. So to know this person or have photos with them is a more scarce and unusual thing.

Wheras new celebrity status can be achieved through social media with no form of measurable achievement based on traditional skill building.

What's interesting about celebrity now is how many more people can be known and what skills can make you be known. Like, being beautiful and able to do finger dances on tiktok.

People have been famous for being beautiful and charismatic long before Internet social networks.

They have but their image had to be channeled through traditional distribution channels which created a narrow funnel for who and how many gained noteriety.

> The whole premise is that the relationship between the suburban dad and the celebrity was somehow weird and unbelievable. I see that

I'm not sure why, and it seems to me like I must be in a minority. I'm pretty sure every other upper-middle class person has one or two wealthy and/or famous friends. All wealthy and famous people can't only have friends that are wealthier or more famous than themselves, the math doesn't work out.

Instead, I see this story as an example of a very NPResque genre: upper middle-class parents often get cancer and die, surprisingly almost as often (proportionally) as the parents of people who do not work for NPR. But in the case of the children of the upper middle-class it probably hurts more because it's the first significant suffering they have ever experienced.

edit: I also assume it's pretty difficult to reject a story about a dead parent's "simple rules for living," interesting celebrity-filled early life with some artistic potential gone unfulfilled due to the choice to settle down and have children, or their immigrant story. They have a sentimental appeal for some readers/listeners, and your sad staffer won't be turning one in every week.

The whole premise of the story is exactly what you say you wish it was.

I'll try one more time and then I'll let it go. I enjoyed the story, and only wish it was less remarkable.

That works way better.

Only from the perspective of the two dudes in the story. I love their healthy "it's no big deal" attitude to the whole thing. What I dislike (but understand) is the "unbelievable story" angle. Perhaps premise was the wrong word.

I agree that this should just be everyday normality. However there seems to be wave of recent popular articles and essays about an epidemic of loneliness. I think essays like this can serve as a positive example of how to interact with/behave towards others and hopefully try to improve social well-being. It’s certainly not the end, but I like to think it can help.

>"Listen: As an adult — and you’re too young to understand this now — all you want is your kids to be happy. That’s what you work for. To give your kids everything in life."

This sentiment is common to all parents across race, culture, and religion. It is one of the things that makes us human. So uplifting to hear how these two very different people connected over that.

Listen to the narrated version of the article. It’s much more powerful hearing the author and Barkley talk about Lin, especially when Barkley talks about how he and Lin would talk about their kids.

Complete opposite experience for me. I found Lin's daughter's voice quite grating and reverted to reading the text. The part that did me in was when she gleefully enunciated "exclamation point exclamation point."

I don't follow what you're trying to say about her "gleeful enunciation".

Possibly regarding the intonation/inflection and pitch?

This was such a lovely story it made me tear up. Barkley does come across as a really nice guy on television and his friendship with Shaq is legendary, so it's great to hear confirmation that that is really the case. And Charles words at the funeral were brief but genuine and warm. Great afternoon read.

This happened to me too, but at work haha.

One thing that I always appreciated about Barkley growing up was his ability to be sincere and relatable; he speaks from the heart.

I was hoping to hear more about his cat litter work. What did he do? Did he ever talk about it with Barkley? etc

> I was hoping to hear more about his cat litter work

Of course it could be a different Lin Wang working in this area, but it looks like he has a few patents for new absorbent materials and related things [0, 1].

[0] https://patents.google.com/patent/US5849405A/en?inventor=Lin...

[1] https://patents.google.com/patent/US7757638B2/en

Cat Litter (and other absorbency products like diapers) are one of the most competitive areas of consumer material science.

I read a great article about how there is continual pressure the shrink the shelf space they take from super markets, and that has led to some pretty interesting breakthroughs in science.

I can't find the article now of course.

If you ever refind that article, please send it to me.

The hometown on the second link seems to match up. First one might be iffy, but maybe he moved around a bit.

Great article.

Charles Barkley is one of the few celebrities I respect. He believes in diversity of thought.

I met him a few times, his daughter went to my high school in Scottsdale. Always such a nice guy, even though freshman were always collectively losing their minds.

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