An antidote to our nation’s discord
Americans these days seem to get along like dogs and cats.
We don’t trust each other. We constantly snipe back and forth. This person is a crook. That person is dumber than a box of rocks.
This acrimony and animosity have not provided a very fitting backdrop for the tranquility that is supposed to accompany the Christmas season.
Recently, however, there was a touching reminder about our shared humanity and how we ought to look at our similarities, rather than our differences.
This message came from a most unlikely source — a cat litter scientist from Iowa and a legendary basketball player with an oversized personality.
It began quite by happenstance:
In 2014, Lin Wang, a native of China and leader of research and development for Kent Corp., a diversified Muscatine manufacturer, was in Sacramento, Calif., on a business trip. He was walking through the lobby of the hotel where he was staying when he noticed National Basketball Association hall-of-famer Charles Barkley across the way.
Shirley Wang, Lin Wang’s daughter, related to listeners on WBUR, the National Public Radio station in Boston, what happened next. She used audio clips from her conversations with the men to tell the story.
“So, I just went to say hi and take a picture with him,” Lin Wang said.
“It was, like, one of the most random things,” Barkley said, chuckling.
“I was just sitting at the bar,” he continued. “And me and your dad were the only two people in there. And we just sit down and started talking.”
“He’s a super nice guy,” Wang said.
Barkley picked up the story: “Before we know it, we looked at each other, like, ‘Yo, man, I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner.’ It turned into a two-hour dinner. And then we actually went back to the bar and just sat there and talked for another couple of hours. And the rest is history.”
The two saw each other in the bar the next night and the night after that.
Lin Wang told his daughter, “I told him I had a good time talking with him, hanging out with him. He said the same thing to me, and he left the phone number. He said, ‘Whenever you’re in Atlanta, New York City or Phoenix, check with me. If I’m in town, we’ll hang out and have a good time.’ ”
And they did.
They sent text messages. They had dinner together. They spent time on the set of Barkley’s cable TV show, “Inside the NBA.” They watched basketball games. They took pictures together.
Barkley told Shirley Wang, “Your dad is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life. I’m not just saying that. It’s fun to be with your friends, you know? ‘Cause, I don’t have that many friends that I want to be around, to be honest with you. I mean, you know a lot of people. But when you go spend time with your friends, it’s a whole different animal.”
In June 2015, Barkley’s mother died. When Lin Wang heard the news, he flew to Leeds, Ala., to be there for his friend.
“For your dad to take the time to come to the funeral meant a great deal to me,” Barkley told Shirley Wang.
Eleven months later, Lin Wang was diagnosed with cancerous tumors in his heart. But he didn’t tell Barkley he was sick.
“I called him and got mad at him when I found out,” Barkley told Shirley Wang. “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.”
Lin Wang, 53, died last June 3 during the NBA Finals. The funeral was the day after his favorite team, the Golden State Warriors, won the title.
Mourners gathered for the visitation and the memorial service. Family and friends were astonished when they saw Charles Barkley, the NBA legend, sports TV star and larger-than-life celebrity, striding down the aisle of the Gay and Ciha Funeral Home in Iowa City.
Later, Shirley Wang, 22, asked her father’s buddy what they talked about during their hours of conversation. “Your dad was so proud of you and your brother. 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.
“It gives me great memories and great joy to know that I was a friend of his,” Barkley said. “Just hearing about him at the funeral — what he had accomplished and what he was trying to help other people accomplish — I was blessed to know him.”
The takeaway from all of this is really pretty simple:
If a Chinese-born chemist who came to America with $60 in his pocket in the 1990s, became a prototypical suburban dad and achieved fame in the world of kitty litter and a black basketball player from a broken home in rural Alabama who achieved phenomenal success in basketball and television can find a common connection, what’s stopping the rest of us from doing a better job of getting along with each other?