Keyshawn Johnson is born in Los Angeles, the youngest of the six children of
Vivian Jessie. Growing up on welfare in South Central L.A., Keyshawn moves
frequently with his mother. His brothers and sisters often stay with relatives.
Keyshawn, who has a different father from his siblings, never meets his dad.
"Somewhere in Los Angeles I have more half-brothers and sisters, kids he
fathered along the way," says Keyshawn. "I didn't want to know the guy
back then and I sure as hell don't need him now, wherever he
Keyshawn, then 7, and some neighborhood children hound Southern Cal football
star Ronnie Lott and his teammate George Achica one day in a pizza restaurant on
near the USC campus. Lott buys the boys a pizza and gives them directions to his
team's practice field. Johnson and the children begin hanging out out with the
football team every afternoon, fetching helmets and balls and carrying things
for the players. Coach John Robinson becomes a father figure to Johnson and the
July 22, 1983
When his mom falls on hard times, Keyshawn and Vivian live on the streets. He
spends his 11th birthday at the Venice Beach Homeless Shelter. "I remember
it because I used to take care of the little kids in daycare for some pocket
change, and they threw me a little party and gave me a plaque," Johnson
Keyshawn resorts to crime in order to make quick money. At the age of 12, he
starts scalping tickets to Dodgers and Raiders games, college football contests,
the 1984 Olympics and the NBA Finals. Eventually he begins selling drugs,
clearing up to $300 a day between the ages of 13 and 15. "I was never a
heavy seller," he says later. "Mainly marijuana, and a little rock,
but I made a lot of
Keyshawn is arrested for selling stolen tickets and is sentenced to six months
at the Camp Miraloma juvenile correctional facility. Johnson is released early
and placed on probation. He later violates his probation by not going
to classes, and does a stint at Camp Barley Flats. He then decides to turn his
life around. "I gave up for good the lifestyle of a hood, gave up robbing
people, selling drugs," he says upon his release from Barley Flats in 1990.
"I took a huge pay cut, but I had had enough of playing dodge ball with the
police and the people with
Keyshawn transfers to football powerhouse Dorsey High for his senior year and
catches 33 passes for 668 yards and six touchdowns. He is offered a scholarship
to the University of Miami, but fails to reach the minimum SAT score for
freshman eligibility. "Deep down, I knew I wanted to go to college and be a
superstar and all that," Johnson said. "But there was too much
catching up to do in school. I didn't prepare myself."
Keyshawn moves to Inglewood, Calif., where he lives with friend Dave Darnell and
Darnell's mother. Gangs, drugs, and violence surround the home. Late one night,
as he jogs up the driveway, Keyshawn is shot in leg by a drive-by assailant. He
is not seriously injured, but had the 9mm bullet hit two inches differently, a
bone would have been shattered. The shooter is never found. "To this day I
still don't know why they were shooting and why at me," Keyshawn says years
After earning junior college All-America honors at West Los Angeles (Calif.)
College, Keyshawn accepts a scholarship to USC. His childhood dream comes true.
"This is a miracle that I'm here," he says.
January 2, 1995
Keyshawn wraps up a marvelous debut season at USC (66 receptions, 1,362 yards,
nine touchdowns, 100 receiving yards or more in all 12 games) by dominating the
Cotton Bowl. He catches eight passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns -- all
Cotton Bowl records -- in the Trojans' 55-14 victory over Texas Tech.
Despite only playing two collegiate seasons, Keyshawn ranks second in USC
history in receptions (176) and yards (2,940) and is named All-America twice. He
finishes his senior season by setting the USC and Pac-10 records for receptions
in a season (102) while compiling 1,434 yards receiving and seven
January 1, 1996
Keyshawn's final game as a Trojan is no different from his previous 23 -- he
can't be stopped. He catches 12 passes for 216 yards -- a Rose Bowl record --
and becomes the first NCAA player to amass more than 200 receiving yards in
back-to-back bowl games. He also earns MVP honors as the Trojans defeat
April 20, 1996
In front of thousands of rabid hometown fans at Madison Square Garden, Keyshawn
is selected by the Jets, becoming the first wide receiver chosen No. 1 in the
draft since Irving Fryar in 1984.