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Summer Splash

Movin' On, Slowly

Keyshawn Johnson looks forward to a new NFL season with a new team, but first he's going to spend this summer with family and friends.

May 25, 2000|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not even noon--heck, it's not even June--but summer feels as if it's in full swing at the sprawling Tarzana home that NFL superstar Keyshawn Johnson bought for his mother when he was a rookie in 1996. The sun is baking the sleek backyard basketball court, and the vast swimming pool is reflecting a constellation of sun sparkles. A distant leaf blower buzzes like a lazy bee.

So why is Johnson, now the highest paid wide receiver in the history of the game, frowning? Ah, yes, of course: The remote control for the waterfall isn't working. Oh, the horror.

"I don't get this thing," he says. Finally, the bricked waterfall yields a modest cascade, and the former USC and Dorsey High School star shrugs, accepts partial victory and unfolds his lanky frame on a chaise longue. "Going to be a hot one," he says to nobody in particular.

Things couldn't be hotter for Johnson, now the star player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team with strong hopes of becoming the first team to host a Super Bowl when the big game visits the Florida city in January. He's now a $56-million man, an All-Pro, a father of two and a businessman with a growing gallery of ventures, including his Beverly Hills restaurant Reign.

Johnson is also the closest thing to a hometown NFL hero there is in Los Angeles. Sure, Johnson became a New York Jet in 1996 and now, after his blockbuster trade last month, he and his wife, Shikiri, will be heading south. But he's still an L.A. kid, he still has a home in Calabasas and, well, we need somebody, right?

"Venice Beach," Johnson answers when asked about his lasting image of Southern California summer. "My friends would go to Venice Beach because it was the most popular, the biggest crowd, and we'd watch all the weird people walking by. . . . We'd spend all day there."

He smiles at the memory. Much of the publicity about Johnson's youth has been on his flirtation with trouble (he has admitted to being a child drug runner and he spent some time in juvenile camp for ticket scalping) but there were plenty of days when he and his friends and family basked in the L.A. summer.

"You can't wait to get out of school," he recalls. "When you know you've got two months of relaxation and nice weather. You know it's never going to rain in the summer. Maybe it'll be one rainy day the whole summer."

This summer, Johnson says he will work out daily at his Calabasas retreat and spend time with his 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, catch a lot of movies, maybe visit Europe or Hawaii. There's also a planned escape on a Disney Cruise after a jaunt through Orlando. ("Theme parks," he says with a sigh, getting weary at the thought. "Theme parks wear me out.") Johnson will turn 28 in July and he expects this summer to be a quiet respite before returning to the NFL's annual campaign in a new uniform.

The football player, who has rubbed some the wrong way with his braggadocio, sounds like a philosopher when asked about leaving behind the Kelly green colors of the Jets.

"This has been a year of changes, a season of changes. . . . There's always going to be changes. You just understand it's a business. It is what it is."

Then he offers a sly smile. "But I am on a better football team now. I believe that."

After a tumultuous rookie season, young Johnson had the temerity to write an autobiography titled "Just Give Me the Damn Ball!" that mocked teammates and ripped USC officials. His reputation as a firebrand grew and threatened to undermine his career--but then Johnson's on-the-field exploits finally began matching his bravado. He became the key player for the Jets and, now, a new team hopes he is the final piece of its championship puzzle.

So, say Johnson were to write that book today, what would the title be? "That's a tough one," he says with a relaxed chuckle. Hmmm . . . well, how about "Just Having a Damn Ball"?

"Hah! Yeah, maybe," he says, lolling back. The waterfall is now burbling nicely and Johnson's new Buccaneers shirt is glistening with pool water. Summer is in the air. " 'Just Having a Ball' . . . I like that."

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