Creating the story
February 5, 2019
When Lin returned to his Iowa City home from a business trip several years ago, he bore a strange anecdote: he had met and befriended NBA superstar Charles Barkley in a bar. Over the next few years, the Wang family became familiar with hearing about their relationship. Lin described encounters with this mystery man anywhere from formal dinner events to graduation parties.
It wasn’t until Barkley appeared at her father’s funeral last June that Shirley realized her father’s importance to the celebrity. She described his arrival, saying, “It was shocking how tall and sweaty he was … I remember just forgetting that it was a funeral.”
Inspired to continue the story on a larger scale, Shirley messaged Alex Schroeder, a digital producer for the station where Shirley interned in college, WBUR Boston. After pitching her podcast idea, Schroeder realized it would be perfect for sports segment “Only A Game.”
However, the process took time. Lin’s passing prompted Shirley to embark on travels around the globe: to Macau, Greece, anywhere to help distract from her grief and live a life of adventure. This temporarily put her story on hold.
“I was just not in a state of mind to do any kind of work like that for a really long time,” Shirley said. “Of course, I was writing about my dad and always thinking of him, but taking what happened and putting it into an actual piece that is shared with everyone else … it can be really intensive.”
While traveling, Shirley decided to resume creating the podcast, communicating with Schroeder whenever she could. Schroeder recalls his surprise that Shirley’s cousin communicated with Barkley while Shirley was overseas, as she was concerned that the phone with his number would be lost in her travels.
“We pulled it off because there were all these little quirks,” Schroeder said. “You wouldn’t know that while listening to the final project, it’s very polished, but I thought, ‘Wow, everybody’s really pitching in to make this work.’ It’s just a nice community feeling to a story that’s already so much about community. The process really reflected the content.”
When Shirley eventually interviewed Barkley, she attempted to remain professional, intending to keep all conversation relevant to the story. This plan shattered, however, when Barkley made comments and gave advice that reflected how a father and daughter would converse.
“It was eerily similar to exactly what [my dad] would say,” Shirley said. “It made me realize that damn, they had a lot of conversations, and I can definitely go to [Barkley] and ask him things later.”
For several more months, Shirley continued to work with Schroeder and others to create the podcast. Though the work was tedious and sometimes overwhelming to think about, Shirley persisted in telling her father’s story with heart and ingenuity.
“At times, I felt paralyzed, and it was hard to figure things out,” Shirley said. “But I learned how to deal with uncertainty throughout my dad’s sickness, so it was just dealing with things day by day.”