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Finding 'Moms': Randy Foye's Mother's Day celebration

RED BANK, N.J. -- Randy Foye remembers last seeing his mother 27 years ago, standing tall in a flowered dress, beaming down at him at his kindergarten graduation.

On Sunday, improbably, Foye will celebrate his first Mother's Day with his "Moms" since that unforgettable day in 1989. Until last September, Regina Foye had been missing and presumed dead for nearly three decades. She vanished sometime after that kindergarten ceremony, a missing person's case that haunted Foye with unanswered questions through his days as a high school star in Newark to his All-American tenure at Villanova to all seven of his NBA stops so far.

But Foye, now 33 and married with three daughters, received a phone call last fall that he thought would never come. His mother was found after a twist of what Foye believes is fate.And as Foye will tell you, "destiny" has it that this Mother's Day also just happens to be her birthday.

On the mantle above the fireplace in his New Jersey home, under a massive American flag once flown in his name by a Villanova graduate who served in Iraq, a beautiful golden urn sits between two framed pictures.

Regina Diane Foye rests here.

Foye has spent nine years remodeling his spacious home, perhaps trying to fix things he can control and numb the pain he's felt over his mother's disappearance. As it turns out, this room where the urn sits is helping repair Foye's broken heart.

For so long he clung to the hope that his mother would still be alive but also dreaded if that were true -- where had she been and why did she leave? But this is far from a sad day for Foye. He has his mother again.

This will be his best Mother's Day yet.

"This is definitely a happy ending," Foye says in an emotional interview with ESPN. "Yeah, you didn't get the Disney and the 'I just won a Super Bowl' ending. But all that time of just debating and questioning yourself and questioning your mom's morals, thinking that she left and didn't come back ... now you know that she was there all along but she ran into a little problem that cost her her life.

"But at the end of the day, she was there. The whole time."

The story of how Regina Foye was found and reunited with her son sounds as far-fetched as Foye making it out of some of the roughest streets in Newark, with no father and mother, and becoming the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft.

In many ways, neither were supposed to make it to this spot on this Mother's Day.

"It's like a movie that has finally come full circle," Christine Foye says about her husband, her eyes welling. "To grow up and never having your mother ... the circumstances are just unbelievable."

Regina Foye was barely a teen -- not old enough to drive -- when she had Randy, her first son, in September of 1983. When she was 19, she disappeared, leaving Randy to be raised by his grandmother, Betty, and then his Aunt Ruth.

As a kid, Randy found himself asking questions, only to be left confused. He constantly asked family members where his mom was, to the point where it agitated them.

Foye, who also has a younger brother, lost his father in a motorcycle accident when he was 2. His mother vanished three years later. He remembers being told everything from "she's at work" to "she was just here and you just missed her" to "she's on vacation."

"I am thinking to myself now, like how could she?" Foye asks. "Why would she go on vacation and not take your kids?"

Foye's grandmother finally settled on the narrative that Regina had been kidnapped and killed. It seemed like the most plausible explanation.

But Foye kept digging.

"It's not nothing I am proud of, but she was a drug dealer," Foye says of what he later learned from people who knew his mother. "And they always say back in the day, when you buy drugs from a certain area, you tested it yourself to see if it was good. And if it was good, you would buy it and take it elsewhere."

While the rising basketball star began making a name for himself around the country, he was constantly guarding himself from the grief of his mother's disappearance by suppressing and smothering it.

"I basically kept everything [repressed] in a small little area, and I ain't going to let this affect my journey," Foye says. "I said on multiple occasions, 'Hey, I am lucky that I lost my mom when I was younger.' There are a lot of people losing their moms as teenagers and it is hard because they have so many memories. I don't have as many memories, so I am lucky. That is how I used to mask it."

Foye never showed emotion about his mother, keeping everything to himself. But he always felt a presence guiding him away from danger, a voice telling him "don't do that" or "that's not right" or "don't go with them. That's a bad crowd."

Later in college, he carried his mother with him everywhere. Literally. Shortly after Foye and Christine first met in geography class at Villanova and began dating, Foye revealed a tattoo of his mother on his chest and told her how Kanye West's "Hey Mama" became as much a part of him as the tattoo.

"He said he had it playing the whole time he was getting the tattoo," Christine says. "That was probably the most intimate detail he shared about this story. But he just said my father died and my mom disappeared. And it was kind of matter of fact, nothing too heavy or deep."

Music, though, helped him heal. If there's a soundtrack to Foye's life, it would feature Kanye and Luther Vandross. In July of 2011, Foye and Christine got married. For their first dance, they carried their two young daughters with them.

That was when the mental dam that Foye had built to keep his emotions bottled up finally began to crack.

As Vandross' "Here and Now" played, Foye broke down, unable to control his emotions. Christine had seen her husband cry only once before, when his grandmother Betty died.

"That is the first time I ever showed emotion about it, ever, in front of people. ... I had a moment," says Foye. "I was basically sitting there saying to myself, 'Man, you actually did everything the right way. You have your friends and your boys to share this with but you don't have your 'Moms' to share it with or your dad.'

"People say it is therapeutic that once you grieve about something and let it go, you feel better," he added. "The rest of the night, I just felt so relaxed. I guess this was my mom's way of saying, 'I am here, let it out and go on and have fun.'"

One of Foye's favorite shows growing up was "Unsolved Mysteries." He loved watching it with his grandmother.

"That used to scare the crap out of me," Foye recalls.

So many times, Foye would attempt to re-enact in his head the terrifying mystery of what happened to his mother. After being drafted in the NBA lottery, Foye thought about hiring an investigator to track his mother down. But then the same emotions he felt whenever something significant happened in his basketball life overcame him. Foye began to feel anger.

What if she was alive and living with another family? What if she returned to his life because he was gaining basketball fame?

When Foye became an All-American at Villanova, he traveled to Los Angeles as a finalist for the John Wooden Award. Scenarios swirled through his head of Regina Foye showing up at the ceremony.

"What would you do, Randy?" he asked himself. "I would probably forgive her for just leaving and the mistake that she made, but I wouldn't be able to accept her back in my life and allow her to play that role of Mommy."

Those wounds, still raw, would be sliced open last September. Despite the fact that the Nets were expected to be the worst team in the NBA, Foye felt an inexplicable pull that led him to sign with Brooklyn after finishing the 2015-16 season with Oklahoma City.

On Sept. 2, as he attended elementary school orientation for Paige and Penny, Foye noticed he had 10 missed calls on his phone, several with 646 and 347 area codes in New York and Brooklyn.

He listened to a woman's voice on one of his voicemails.

"Good morning. This message is for Randy Foye. I am calling from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in New York City. I am calling you regarding an important matter. Can you please return my call at your earliest convenience?"

Foye called one number back and was greeted by Dr. Jason Graham of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the City of New York. Graham calmly asked Foye to tell him about his mother. Foye began to wonder if his mother was alive.

Graham, though, told Foye how he had read an article about Foye joining the Nets that included the backstory of his mother's disappearance.

He told Foye about a Jane Doe case in Brooklyn from 1990 that had never been solved and he was trying to piece together the biggest mystery of Foye's life.

"I think he knew from the beginning that it was her because [they had] her finger prints from being incarcerated before [belonging to] Regina Diane Foye," Foye says. "[But] he said there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Jane and John Does, just in Brooklyn alone.

"It is kind of hard, if someone is really looking, there are so many people who died who don't have papers and people don't come looking for them, with no identification."

Graham asked Foye if he could take a DNA test and have relatives do so as well. Foye agreed and swabbed the inside of his mouth, as did two of his daughters and an aunt.

Christine said Foye looked like he had seen a ghost after the phone call. He had a glazed look on his face and was stammering.

"He was trying to find words like, 'Ummm, my mom ... my ... they think ... they think they found my mom,'" Christine says.

Two weeks later, Foye woke up inexplicably at 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 19. He decided to text Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and GM Sean Marks, telling them he wasn't up to coming in for his scheduled offseason workout. Feeling restless that day, Foye went to a wine store with Christine to pick up a bottle to celebrate his upcoming birthday.

His phone rang.

It was Graham calling. He asked Foye to sit down.

"It's her, Randy," Foye remembers hearing. "It's her."

Foye's body went numb. Then he was overcome with happiness and finally nervousness about having to tell family members.

Graham tried to fill in some of the blanks for Foye.

"He couldn't go into details," Foye said. "[But it was an] overdose. She was found in an apartment building where they pick up and buy drugs. It was known for distribution of drugs. January of 1990."

Regina Foye's body had been buried in Kings County in Brooklyn. For the first time in Foye's life, things began to make sense. His mother didn't abandon him and his brother for another family. She died and was resting in the same borough where Foye was now playing for his seventh NBA team.

And amazingly, Graham had happened to read a local article about Foye and his mother and made the connection.

"He wasn't [even] into sports like that," an incredibly thankful Foye says.

Regina Foye's body was exhumed and transported to New Jersey, where Foye decided to cremate her despite some of his relatives wishing otherwise for religious reasons. At a family gathering just down the road from his house, Foye broke down uncontrollably for the second time over his mother, in front of 15 of his closest friends and relatives.

"This is my 'Moms,'" Foye said. "I felt as though her being home was more important than me putting her in the ground and having a service. She was away for 27 years, the years that I didn't have her, now let me have her and celebrate.

"She was buried by herself and no one was there. Her spirit was protected, but she was buried where no one knew where she was at, and now she is home, and now my kids can come home and talk to their grandmother if they want to."

Foye has found himself talking to his mother often. He lights a candle and prays nightly by the urn. While Foye averaged a career-low 5.2 points and 18.6 minutes this season for the rebuilding Nets, he made a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in a 120-118 win over the Charlotte Hornets in Brooklyn on Dec. 26.

After the game, only the Nets' eighth win of the season at the time, Foye returned home and put his arms on the mantle and let out a big sigh.

"I ain't going to quit," he told his mother. "I ain't going to quit, Mom."

When he was younger, Foye shared his tragic story with journalists but would otherwise be short and cold whenever asked about his mother. It was just too painful. But these days, discussing his journey in emotional detail like he did on his "Outside Shot with Randy Foye" podcast is therapeutic. You can almost hear the healing in his voice. After all, talking about her helped lead to Graham finding her.

Despite the anguish all these years, Mother's Day in the past was actually a day of celebration for Foye with his mother's birthday on May 14 and May 12 birthdays for Aunt Ruth and his mother-in-law. The day was marked by big gatherings and barbecues.

But this Mother's Day will be unlike any he can remember. Foye will surround the urn with flowers as he gets to spend Mother's Day and Regina Foye's birthday with her next to him.

Finally.

"To tell you the truth, it's destiny," Foye said, his eyes moist, the urn just a few steps away. "I definitely got closure. ... I never really moved on. It is like a huge gaping wound that I just kind of put a Band-Aid on. I just tried to cover it up, and at times it didn't work and it showed and I let it out.

"I think I am going through that process [like] therapy. I am starting the healing process. When I put her on top of that fireplace, the healing process started."

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