Clippers’ Randy Foye connects in ways that matter


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — I begin by challenging Randy Foye and telling him if he hits his threes, the Clippers win. If he does not, the Grizzlies will triumph in the playoffs.

I have never sounded so ridiculous, and that’s a lot of history to overcome.

Here I am pressing someone who was 3 when his father died in a motorcycle accident. Five when his mother, selling drugs on the streets of Newark, N.J., just vanished.

He was parentless before first grade, the Crips and Bloods waiting for him to grow up, his brother shot 11 times, surviving and only recently getting released from prison.

“Better not miss against Memphis, Randy,” I said. How much more trite can someone get?

I’m thinking this is his chance to become a hero only to discover he already is with some kids.

A few weeks ago he flies five youngsters on his dime from his childhood neighborhood in Newark to L.A. as a reward for doing well in school. They eat with him, go to Disneyland, Universal Studios and a Lakers-Clippers game.

“I just want kids to know there’s a better life out there than street life,” he says without a hint of his own wounded childhood until it’s mentioned.

“If I didn’t go through what I did, I wouldn’t be the person I am,” Foye replies. He’s apparently much more than just a three-point shooter.

As for winning big — a dream come true — he says it already has.

“I have a wonderful family,” which he says includes two daughters, “who can go out and eat with Mom and Dad.”

Maybe everyone else takes it for granted, but Foye can’t remember anything his father ever said. At best, he says, “I remember his face.”

His mother was 141/2 when he was born, 161/2 when his brother came along. “I remember her smile and how tough she could be,” he says.

But he has no idea what happened to her.

“She was on the streets, selling drugs and doing what she could to support her family,” he says. “She messed with the wrong people, I guess, and it probably caught up to her. Then she was just gone.”

The case was never solved. No body was found, no one ever confessed to anything, but he’s convinced his mother is dead.

“I was too young to understand what she was doing,” he says. “But she would have never just left us.”

He had her face tattooed across his chest. It was his first tattoo, and “no matter how much pain there was, and there’s a lot with a face to tattoo, I wanted her to always be with me,” he says.

He later added a tattoo of his older daughter.

“She sees it,” he says, “and she says, ‘That’s me, right?’ Then she points to my mom’s face and I explain to her that she’s my mommy. She wants to know where she is.

“My wife and I look at each other. Uh-oh, how to explain this? I tell her my mommy is resting with God.”

She’s 4, and happy her own mother is nearby. There will be time later to hear the whole story.

“I remember when I graduated from elementary school, high school, or would get an award, everyone else’s parents would be there,” he says. “I’m human. My parents should have been there.

“It takes a lot to get me upset, but early on it was definitely ‘Why me?’ But I discovered competitive sports, had a passion for them and what it was like to not let anyone stop me from accomplishing my goals. I knew I was going to be successful. I just knew it.”

He was fortunate to have an extraordinary aunt in Ruth Martin, whom he now calls his grandmother. She will be in L.A. for Games 3 and 4. He also got an assist from Betty Foye, his mother’s mother, who died two years ago.

But there also has to be something burning deep in a kid to leave Newark and find a home in the NBA.

“I look at everything in front of me as a mountain that has to be climbed,” he says. “I also became determined to beat whatever curse there might be on my family so one day my kids wouldn’t have to go through it.”

He grew up on the same tough streets as his brother, but basketball allowed Foye to travel while his brother remained in Newark. They have continued to go in opposite directions.

“I just happen to believe if you have a dream, nothing can stop you,” he says. “I overcame a lot because I wanted to.”

He played basketball at Villanova. And now his Assist 4 Life foundation takes a group of 20 to 30 kids every year to Villanova so they can see such a place is not out of their reach.

His foundation also works each year with a group of students from Dr. E. Alma Flagg Elementary, where he attended school. He has the youngsters sign code of conduct contracts, while foundation Vice President Christina Vuocolo visits the school each week to monitor the kids’ progress.

“We had two boys,” says Foye, “who skipped a few meetings. I wouldn’t allow them to come to L.A. I’m not going to reward someone who isn’t working as hard as the other youngsters.”

The first youngsters to get the Assist 4 Life personal treatment are now juniors in high school.

“I can’t wait to see them graduate,” says Foye. “I’m going to be there. It will be quite a day.”

Right now it’s time for him to practice his three-point shooting. Priorities, you know.

So I never get the chance to ask him about being a freak, his inner organs flip-flopped. Something called “situs inversus.”

But that’s all right. I already know Foye’s heart is in the right place. And that’s all that matters.