For the love of the game

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Oldest rookie in pro sports – and young buck teammates – chase hoops dreams

by Christopher Lancette

Though a victory for the new-to-Gwinnett Atlanta Vision basketball team is already out of reach for the night, and only 2:34 remains on the clock, magic is in the air.

But even its maker doesn't see it coming — something that would spark the dreams and imaginations of everyone in the Suwanee Sports Academy gym. As men less than half his age run up and down the court, a 47-year-old odyssey named Kelvin Davis sits on the bench using an air fork, plate and food to convey to his family in the bleachers that he wants to eat after the game.

Somebody calls a timeout. Fans start screaming his name. Coach Bruce Kreutzer walks by, taps him on the shoulder, and tells him to hit the court.

Davis shakes off the disbelief, checks to make sure that his red and black team-colored knee braces are in place, pushes his spectacles tight to his forehead, and steps on the court.

The small but vocal crowd goes nuts: The increasingly bald-headed hoopster with day-old gray beard scrabble has just become the oldest rookie in professional sports.

"I love this game and I believed I could make it," Davis would say after the game, his face beaming as his kids greet him with a hug. They weren”t born when he played in his last league game – a quarter-century ago at Alabama State. "I always wanted to play pro ball and that passion wouldn”t die."

Nor would it allow him to simply be a token history maker. He has busted his tail to achieve peak physical conditioning and win his chance to earn a paycheck on the hardwood.

Twenty-eight seconds into his debut, the 5″11″ paint contractor who has no business under the glass pulls a defensive rebound away from a chiseled young man in the prime of his life. Davis kicks the red, white and blue ball upcourt to a teammate who throws down a power dunk. Seconds later, he collects a second board.

With 1:30 left, he receives the ball in the right corner. Everyone in the building, maybe even the other team, is hoping he”ll score. "Shoot “Old School”!"

Davis puts a head fake on a defender, drives baseline, and leaps. He hangs in the air, draws a foul, and gets off a shot that hits the rim and … bounces away. But seconds later, he calmly toes the charity stripe and sinks two free throws.

The crowd loves it. So does the guy that picks up the assist on making sports history.

"He”s a success story," Kreutzer says. "He set aside his job to chase this dream. A lot of us chase a dream by staying in bed and saying, “Oh, I could have done this or I could have done that.” I appreciate what Kelvin does. He comes to practice and dives on the floor all the time and energizes this team. One guy with passion is worth 100 with an interest."

Passion is what minor league sports is all about. Fans tired of the over-paid and absurdly pampered pro-athlete types turn to teams like the Gwinnett Gladiators and Atlanta Vision because they want to see sports played with heart.

Seeking to give local sports fans more such opportunities, Snellville real estate entrepreneurs Quentin and Akilah Townsend bought the Vision franchise several years ago – changing the name from the Atlanta Mustangs to the Atlanta Vision to represent the husband-and-wife combo”s "new vision for local sports." The concept is based on the principles of providing affordable family entertainment and giving back to the community. The team played its first two seasons in DeKalb County, moving to Gwinnett and taking on new part owners Carter Patterson and Brian Richey of Suwanee-based Forte Data Systems before the start of the current 2006-07 campaign.

While the team is just beginning to make a name for itself here, some fans sa