Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

There's nothing so great as a star's life.

That, at least, is what we're led to believe, as we worship those whose success makes them larger than, well, they really are.

This weekend, however, a story about former NBA great and current NBA great talker Charles Barkley filled the web with astonishment and not a few tears.

Told by Shirley Wang on WBUR, this was the story of Charles Barkley and a friend whom few knew.

The friend was Wang's dad, Lin.

Lin Wang died recently. He was a cat litter scientist who happened to meet Barkley one night in a Sacramento bar.

They talked for hours. They had dinner. They talked for more hours. They kept in touch.

When Barkley's mom died, Lin Wang turned up at the funeral in a small Alabama town.

When Wang died, Barkley was there at his funeral in deepest Iowa and gave a eulogy.

Shirley Wang didn't really believe at first that Barkley and her dad were friends.

Why would such a famous man hang out with her dad, who, well, wasn't famous? 

However, it was only when she talked to the big man himself that she heard a simple, powerful explanation.

Barkley told her that Lin Wang was one of the happiest people he'd ever met. He said he simply enjoyed being with him. Then he added: 

Cause, I don't have that many friends that I want to be around, to be honest with you.

Success means you meet a lot of people. As Barkley says, you know a lot of people. 

Which doesn't mean you like a lot of people. 

It certainly doesn't mean you trust a lot of people.

Barkley and Lin Wang seem to have come together because of similar views, tough upbringings and work ethic.

True friendship, though, isn't so rational. And it isn't connected with business.

When you hang out with your friends, Barkley says, "it's a whole different animal."

Barkley and Lin Wang came together, I suspect, because when they talked they could be themselves. Not their public selves, not their work selves, but their true core selves. 

The ones with doubts, paranoias, foibles and pain. The ones with weird thoughts, weird likes and even weirder obsessions. 

Once in a while, you simply come across people with whom you can be open. For many people, sadly, these are total strangers whom they know they won't see again.

When I'm with my friends, there's an entirely different rhythm, an entirely different tone to the conversation.

Because, at heart, there's an entirely different emotional understanding. 

It's not about total commonality -- I have friends whose political views border on the crminally painful -- any more than a great marriage necessarily involves total commonality.

True friendship is about being together on a little island where you can breathe and just be.

Shirley Wang was shocked how much Barkley knew about her and the Wang family.

She was stunned how much Barkley admired her dad for his selflessness and, for the fact that Lin Wang was a far bigger success in science than his daughter realized.

The modern world reveres success above, seemingly, all else.

There's no such thing as people. There are only winners and losers.

Yet beyond the crass definition of success, there's a more elevated realm. It houses those with whom you really want to talk and be.

Be honest, there aren't many people in that realm.

That's why so many wept when they heard the story of Charles Barkley and Lin Wang.

Published on: Dec 16, 2018
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