Through the smoke, lights and god-awful blare around this Los Angeles street kid who would be king, there has appeared a question.
It first peeked out this month in Manhattan, somewhere between Keyshawn Johnson's afternoon in a $575-a-night hotel suite and discussions about creating his own cartoon, and an evening appearance before autograph seekers in Times Square.
As the wide receiver thought about the likelihood that the New York Jets would make him the first pick in Saturday's NFL draft, he told a reporter:
"If Earv wasn't playing, I'd already own L.A. . . . New York would be cool too, I guess."
The question edged further into view this week, on Johnson's return trip to New York, this time to announce a major shoe endorsement deal.
The invitations to the gathering were printed in the form of a key chain proclaiming that the shoe manufacturer "has signed the key to the future of football."
The news conference occurred at the same sports bar to which Johnson donated his USC jersey despite never having played a game in New York.
No queries were taken about football. Only shoes.
Afterward, as Johnson was surrounded on 45th Street by fans who somehow recognized him out of uniform, he told another reporter:
"They know. Just like we know singers and actresses, they know."
Singers and actresses?
One day before Saturday's draft, the question has come into full view, as bold as the newly formed Keyshawn Inc., as brash as the post-draft celebration he has already scheduled for West Hollywood's House of Blues.
It is this:
What on earth is Keyshawn Johnson going to be like once he actually does something?
Barring a final-day trade, the Jets will draft Keyshawn Johnson on Saturday simply because he is the best player available who has never dragged his girlfriend down a flight of stairs and beat her.
In the draft's 61-year history, he will be only the fifth receiver selected No. 1 overall.
The Jets will spend about 10 minutes celebrating.
Then they will sigh.
"He does talk too much," said Dick Haley, Jet personnel director, who quickly added, "but he's never gotten in trouble over it."
The rest of the league's personnel bosses will spend about 10 minutes in a jealous rage over losing a 6-foot-3, 220-pound sprinter who can halt breaths and change games.
Then they will think about such things as Johnson's recent appearance on ESPN. While watching a tape of receiver Tim Brown being beaten by cornerback Dale Carter, Johnson said, "That won't happen to me."
They too will sigh.
"You'd rather not have a guy come off like that," Mike Allman, Seattle Seahawk personnel director, said of Johnson's pre-draft schtick. "But we are in America, aren't we? Kids can say whatever they want."
Another club executive said none of this would have been issue two months ago, noting, "You would have said, 'He's cocky, big deal, just look at Michael Irvin.'
"Now, people aren't saying that."
Johnson says he doesn't care what people think or say.
"I'm not going to be something I'm not," he said this week. "I'm from the inner city, this is a big deal for me, I'm just having fun."
He laughed the infectious laugh that has won over dozens of influential players and coaches who have helped him on the long road from South Central L.A. to Broadway.
"People who say, 'He's arrogant, he's cocky,' they don't complain when I'm scoring touchdowns or winning games," he said. "I'm not going to be some old cranky guy who doesn't like people."
So exactly who is he? Besides the playmaker who set a Pacific 10 Conference record this year with 102 catches and was most valuable player in the Rose Bowl with 12 catches for 216 yards?
There are no clear answers.
One day during this pre-draft process, he claimed no knowledge of a shoe contract while saying, "We want to leave business affairs outside of all this. Everybody wants to know about it, but we don't want to talk about it. This is about football."
Two days later, he was on the podium with the shoe people in New York, talking about everything but football.
Before this season in a magazine article, he did not deny that his rocky childhood included a three-year stint beginning at 13 when he sold drugs. He was eventually arrested on charges of possession of a concealed weapon and marijuana and cocaine, landing him in a California youth facility for nine months.
But this week he denied any involvement in drugs and refused to discuss his past.
"It's something we don't talk about anymore," he said.
Most mothers of top prospects spend weeks on the phone with reporters who wish to celebrate their offspring, but Johnson's mother, Vivian Jessie, would not return calls for this story.
Johnson had already said that Jessie and the rest of his immediate family (two brothers, three sisters, girlfriend and 6-month-old daughter) were off-limits.
None of which surprises anyone who really knows him.
Friends and former coaches agree that Johnson is a genuinely friendly, kind kid whose exuberance should not be mistaken for innocence.