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    R. Kelly to Play Pro Basketball

    Look out Shaquille O'Neal, here comes R. Kelly. While Shaq is a basketball star who thinks he can sing, Kelly--the "R." stands for Robert--is a singer who thinks he play hoops. To prove his point, Kelly inked a contract yesterday to play minor league professional basketball.

    If he plays ball as well as he sells records, the rest of the United States Basketball League better watch out.

    The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Kelly will join the Atlantic City Seagulls of the USBL as a shooting guard. The best-selling R&B singer/producer is projected to start at the position when the team opens the season May 2 against the Connecticut Skyhawks.

    He's also projected to be starting anthemist. Kelly's contract stipulates that he'll croon the National Anthem before at least four Seagull home games.

    "It's not a gimmick," Seagull owner Ken Gross told E! Online Friday. "He's an excellent player in tremendous physical condition...He's right on the edge of the NBA."

    However, until joining the Seagulls Thursday, the closest Kelly had come to pro hoops was recording his paean to b-ball and love "I Believe I Can Fly" for sparring partner and pal Michael Jordan's Space Jam. The song was a featured single from the gazillion-selling movie soundtrack.

    Audio Clip: R. Kelly, "I Believe I Can Fly"
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    Gross says the team scout spotted Kelly working out in Chicago with former Bull gunner Craig Hodges. At the scout's urging, Gross watched Kelly, who brings a collapsible basket with him on the road, play about two months ago and was so impressed he invited him to join the Seagulls. Kelly begins practicing with the club Saturday.

    Last year's team finished with a 20-7 record, won its division and made it to the championship game, only to lose to the Florida Sharks by three points. Now, that Kelly's aboard, Gross guarantees that "we're going to win the championship this year."

    Kelly's contract will let him out of practices or games when there is a conflict with his concerts, recording sessions or mixing chores. He will wear number 12 to honor his multiplatinum 1994 album, 12 Play, a spokeswoman from his record label said.

    The USBL is a professional, 12-club minor basketball league that plays a 9-week season from May to July. Over the years teams like the New Hampshire Thunder Loons, the Jacksonville Hooters and the Westchester Golden Apples have sent 100 players to the NBA, including Anthony Mason, Spud Webb, Mario Elie and Muggsy Bogues.

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