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Muddied but Unbowed
Jeff MacGregor
November 08, 1999
This was the season he was going to ascend to the cosmology of one-name stars. This was the year his team was going to the Big Show. This was the year it all fell apart...yet Keyshawn Johnson continues to shine
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November 08, 1999

Muddied But Unbowed

This was the season he was going to ascend to the cosmology of one-name stars. This was the year his team was going to the Big Show. This was the year it all fell apart...yet Keyshawn Johnson continues to shine

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So, do they hate each other? Probably not. After all, why waste that kind of energy? Contrary to what Newsweek said in its recent profile of Keyshawn, teammates do not have to be friends.

But who knows how they feel about each other? Neither would talk about the feud they aren't having. Chrebet refused to be interviewed for this piece, and Keyshawn's last word on the subject was this, "I don't want to help him sell any more books."

J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!

Two phrases recur when you talk to people about Keyshawn: "He is the most intensely loyal person I've ever met," and "If I had to go into a dark alley, he's the one I'd want with me."

Why a corporate marketing director would be in a dark alley is anybody's guess. MAYBE YOU think you know the place from movies or TV or hip-hop, but South-Central Los Angeles is not metaphorical—it is not a jungle or a war zone or a Third World country. Those are literary clichés that obscure the reality of the place and make any responsibility for it seem distant and impossible. South-Central is an American neighborhood of wide streets lined with small pastel houses where American families suffer not just gang violence or institutionalized poverty, but worse still, the failure of hope. That Keyshawn got out testifies to his strength of will. That he comes back says a lot about his heart.

After the riots and fires in 1992, folks in Los Angeles heard a lot of uplifting rhetoric from local politicians and corporate gladhanders about rebuilding the scorched economy of South-Central. Rhetoric looks swell on the op-ed page or in the annual report but doesn't create any actual jobs or lay any actual bricks. Most large companies hid behind the sterile language of cost/benefit analyses. Burned-out businesses and vacant lots have remained empty for the better part of a decade, and people in the area still travel miles to find work or shop for basic necessities. Only lately have inner-city areas like this been perceived as emerging economic markets.

One politician who has turned the talk into something tangible is L.A. city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. No oratorical firebrand, he is instead an extremely patient man who has, over a period of years, coaxed and hectored a handful of redevelopment groups back into the 8th District, which includes South-Central. One of the largest projects, a 26-acre, $50 million retail center, is being undertaken by a consortium made up of three entities: Capital Vision Equities, a residential developer; Katell Properties, a commercial developer; and Keyshawn Johnson, a Pro Bowl MVP. "It's a very important project for Los Angeles," says Ridley-Thomas. "It's the first project of this size and sort in the last decade. The residents here are very excited."

Chesterfield Square, as the center will be known, breaks ground this month at the intersection of Western and Slauson avenues. With its opening planned for Christmas, 2000, it will be anchored by a huge Home Depot, a supermarket and a drugstore. (Keyshawn would like to see a McDonald's in there too, and maybe an athletic-shoe store.) The center will create 600 jobs and send millions of dollars through the local economy.

Keyshawn's participation in the enterprise is "substantial" according to those who know. In other words, he doesn't want to be just a face on the prospectus. As Ridley-Thomas puts it, "He hasn't been bashful about getting involved and putting his money where his mouth is."

Keyshawn knows how successful former Lakers colossus Magic Johnson has been with his inner-city investments, like his movie theaters a few neighborhoods away in Baldwin Hills. Make no mistake, this is not, according to the councilman, "a matter of charity. It is not a matter of philanthropy. This is a matter of business." And for Keyshawn, a matter of pride. He well understands that he may make a reasonable return on his investment—in fact, he underscores this in conversation—but his eyes widen only when he talks about doing well by doing good: "It's a good investment. And why wouldn't I want to do something like this in the place where I was born and raised?"

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