I never expected that my babysitter would become a Heisman Trophy candidate. A prom-queen candidate, maybe, but Heisman? Heck no. I've learned the hard way, though, that when you're a single working mother who travels for your job, you grab any reliable, responsible and available babysitter you can find.
In the summer of 1992 my daughter, Dylann, was five when current USC star wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was just a skinny, obnoxious teenager who had just graduated from high school and was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. I met him and his trusty sidekick, Reynaldo (Skeats) Spalding, now a defensive end at Iowa, when I spent three months reporting and writing a story about Dorsey High in Los Angeles, where they had both played football. Almost every day the two of them ribbed me. "Hey, Sports Illustrated," they'd yell from their perch alongside the Dorsey practice field, where they hung out that summer. "When are you going to make us famous?"
"Soon," I would yell back. "Soon. No doubt about it."
During my reporting, Keyshawn regaled me with stories about what a great football player he had been in high school (page 40) and predicted that someday I'd write about him in the SI college football issue. Everyone who knew Keyshawn told me not to take him seriously, that he had a lively imagination.
"I'll show you someday," Keyshawn insisted.
Later that year both Keyshawn and Reynaldo enrolled at West Los Angeles Junior College, and they called me one afternoon in search of work. I told them that I would ask around. Soon afterward I heard about a film company that was working on a high school basketball documentary in South Central L.A., near the neighborhood in which they both were raised. The producer wanted a couple of people who knew the area and who could provide security for the camera equipment. "I have two experts for you," I said.
Later, I hooked up Keyshawn and Skeats with writers who came to Los Angeles to cover everything from the post-riot mood of the city to fashion among inner-city teens. They were naturals—courteous, respectful, friendly, reliable and what they didn't know, they faked. I liked that. I liked that a lot.
So when my ex-husband, Mike Tharp, was sent to cover the famine in Somalia for U.S. News & World Report and I was sent to cover Charles Barkley's first games with the Phoenix Suns and my then current babysitter had a new baby of her own to take care of, I called on my experts to stay with Dylann. It wasn't long before it became a semiregular gig—regular enough that Dylann would wake up, walk into the kitchen where I was reading the newspaper and say, "Wassup?"
Keyshawn and Skeats used to pick her up at school too. They became such familiar—albeit unlikely—parts of the scenery at Dylann's school that it was hardly surprising when I found a note from Skeats on the wall this spring. It read, TO THE ST. PKTER'S 6TH GRADE—GOOD LUCK—SKEATS, NO.97 IOWA.
Last fall a sports agent I know called and asked if I was aware that Keyshawn was driving a new gold Honda Accord.