By Kim Constantinesco
Denver Nuggets guard Randy Foye, 30, is different from other NBA players inside and out.
Biologically speaking, Foye was born with situs inversus, which means that the organs in his stomach and chest are reversed. His stomach is on the right while ours is on the left. His heart is located just to the right of the center of his chest rather than the left. His liver, like 0.01% of the population that share his condition, lies on the left rather than the right.
The condition is no threat to his health or his athletic career, and there was no need for any kind of lifesaving surgery, but there was plenty of lifesaving action that had to happen for Foye to make it out of his younger years alive and into to the NBA.
At just 3-years-old, the Newark, New Jersey native lost his father in a motorcycle accident. At 5-years-old, his mother was kidnapped and murdered.
At the time, the Newark streets were littered with drugs, guns, and gangs. Without parents in the picture before he was 6-years-old, Foye’s ultimate destination appeared to be jail or even worse.
“One of the scariest things that I probably ever saw was when I was coming back from just playing open gym at the rec center,” Foye said while peddling a stationary bike at the Nuggets’ practice facility. “It was around 8:30 p.m. in December. It was a cold night and I heard four gun shots as I was walking. I saw this guy who I knew laying on the ground. It was my aunt’s next door neighbor. I was like ‘Terique, get up!’ And then my aunt yelled out the window, ‘Get in the house!’ The dude just got robbed and shot right there. I was at least 20 seconds away from being right there with him.”
It wasn’t just the air that was cold that night for the sophomore in high school.
“It sounded like firecrackers,” Foye said of the shooting. I said, ‘We’ve got firecrackers out here? It’s not even July 4th yet.'” I didn’t see any bullet or anything. He was just laying there lifeless and later we found out that he was shot under the armpit. That’s why I didn’t see any bullet hole.”
Foye bounced between his aunt, his grandma, and his great-grandma growing up. All taught him valuable lifesaving lessons. For example, Foye’s grandma warned him not to stand on a particular corner close to the house because a lot of stolen cars would crash into the fence there.
It took a village and an orange ball to save Foye from an almost certain disaster.
“There are a lot of people who probably don’t even know that I give so much credit and have so much respect for that have done so many things to get me to the level that I’m at now,” Foye said.
From AAU coaches to teachers, all had a hand in Foye’s eventual success.
Sandy Pyonin was Foye’s AAU coach, and Foye considers him to be the closest thing he has to a father. Pyonin drove him to and from practices and discretely offered life advice through the X’s and O’s.
Maria Contardo was a student advocate at East Side High School, and turned Foye into a student simply by setting rules and telling his teachers to push him harder. He went from skipping classes and getting into fist-fights to going to study hall and working hard for his grades. As college recruiters approached, he directed them to Contardo. He worked hard enough on the hardwood and in the classroom to earn a scholarship to Villanova.
It was people like this that helped guide Foye to the right track. Even though Foye no longer lives in Newark, he’s doing his part to “pay it forward.”
That’s why Foye set up the Randy Foye Foundation, which creates programs to improve the lives of people, especially children, in Newark.
“I will never forget where I came from,” Foye said.
One program within the foundation has middle-school students write essays to Foye. The foundation picks six letters (three from the boys and three from the girls), and teaches the children who wrote them how to excel in life.
“It’s unbelievable to see the response we get from those kids,” Foye said. “We have them dress up, we interview them, just like a job. We’re trying to get them ready. I don’t know if anyone is getting them ready at home because no one was getting me ready at home. I’m just trying to pass down knowledge that I figured out when I was in college, and I’m trying to get it to them while they’re still in elementary school.”
Along with helping kids from his hometown, Foye is raising his own daughters — a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 10-month old. He’s able to be the parent that he never had.
Foye is in his 8th NBA season, and he’s averaged 11.4 points and 3.0 assists per game. Those numbers don’t tell half the story of his remarkable journey to the pro level, and ultimately to safety and security.
Foye may be on his 5th NBA team and his organs may be a little mixed up, but his intention for leading a good life is straight as an angel’s flight path.