Keeping her father alive: how a ‘suburban dad’ and Charles Barkley impacted a nation

When 2014 West graduate Shirley Wang’s dad passed away, she dedicated herself to cherishing his memory. Now, she’s the subject of nationwide fame after sharing his most treasured story: his friendship with an NBA superstar.


Anjali Huynh

Shirley Wang poses for a photo at Java House. The 22-year-old was the creator of a viral podcast that detailed her father’s friendship with former NBA superstar Charles Barkley.

By Anjali Huynh, West High School

The wild journey began with a cat litter scientist from Iowa, a former NBA superstar and a strange coincidence that would impact their lives for the better.

Residing thousands of miles apart, Lin Wang and Charles Barkley had over a foot in height difference and led strikingly different lifestyles. Yet, as West graduate Shirley Wang ’14 discovered, there are more similarities between a sports legend and “everyone’s suburban dad” than meets the eye.

Initially, the alleged friendship appeared unlikely. Scrolling through seemingly one-sided, exclamation point-filled texts between the two men, Shirley saw the story as far-fetched, presumably a joke played on an innocent man. After all, this seemed more like a fantastical party story, especially given that the scientist in question was her dad.

It was about treating him with respect and treating his story with respect.”

— Shirley Wang

But after Lin was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and their time together became limited, Shirley gave the tale another chance, initiating a one-on-one conversation styled like a traditional interview.

“So many people hadn’t taken this story seriously, and when you’re being interviewed, you feel very important,” Shirley said. “It was about treating him with respect and treating his story with respect.”

This primary intimate conversation led to a piece aired on NPR on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. What Shirley was not expecting, however, was the overwhelming media attention this 14 minute podcast received. Less than a week later, she found herself appearing on the Today Show, featured in the Washington Post and cited in celebrity Twitter posts — all because her dad befriended Charles Barkley.

This story was originally published on West Side Story on February 5, 2019.