MUSCATINE—The story that captivated the Internet, Twitter and network TV Monday about a friendship between a small Asian man from eastern Iowa and NBA great/TV personality, Charles Barkley, easily rings true with his former co-workers at Kent Corp. in Muscatine.
Lin Wang, a scientist and head of the research and development department at the Kent Pet Group, worked for Kent for 20 years and was still an employee when he passed away June from heart cancer.
He met Barkley in a hotel bar four years ago, struck up a conversation which led to a friendship. Wang even visited him on TNT’s NBA set, where Barkley works. He also went to Barkley’s mom’s funeral in 2015.
Wang's daughter, Shirley Wang, a journalist who does some work for WBUR public radio in Boston, decided to share the story of her father’s friendship with Barkley Sunday on the WBUR website, and it’s been an overnight internet sensation.
Shirley Wang even says in the article that she even had wondered if her dad was that good of a friend of Barkley’s until she talked to him in-depth about it one day. She got further proof when she spoke with Barkley, as well as when Barkley attended her father’s funeral near Iowa City last June.
But none of it is a surprise to those who knew Wang locally.
“It actually is not surprising to me,” said Carol Reynolds, spokesperson for Kent Corp., who knew Wang. She recalled him as an outgoing person, who contributed to the company and friends, equally as well. And she remembers him speaking of his friendship with Barkley, too.
“It was a friendship he was really proud of,” said Reynolds. “I think Lin, here, was a really well thought of co-worker and a confidant to a lot of people both personally and professionally. So it was really not a surprise to us that Lin would be a great friend to Charles Barkley or to anyone.”
Plus, Wang's daughter was plenty accurate in her article when she said he could own a room, Reynolds said.
“To some it might have seemed like an unlikely friendship or even unbelievable,” Reynolds said “But Shirley’s article really brings it to life and shows us that authenticity and a human connection that’s real. And between those two friends, it was very real.”
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Wang may have lived much of his adult life in eastern Iowa, but in many ways, he was a man of the world.
Born in Huojia, Henan, China, he graduated from Agricultural University in Zhengzhou, Henan, China. Eventually, he migrated to America and earned a Ph.D at Kansas State University. He led the research and development department at the Kent Pet Group.
Back in 2013, Wang volunteered to help reporters at the Muscatine Journal, or anyone who needed his help as a translator when Xi Jinping visited Muscatine.
Wang's daughter said Monday the fact that article had gone viral surprised her. "I can't quite wrap my head around it," she said.
For Kent workers, the article all fit the profile of the man they knew.
“He really contributed a lot to our organization,” Reynolds said. “He was really a great person. He cared for people. He was very interested in people.
“Many of us feel the same, it was both a great loss personally and professionally. He’s really missed.”
But the story of Wang’s and Barkley’s friendship is one for everyone, Reynolds indicated.
“From our organization,” she added, “I think we understand that we can all be impacted from this important perspective about true unconditional friendship. It’s a great story.”