By Jonathan Rumley
Jason Collins has the best-selling jersey in the NBA this week but his number has a deeper meaning than many might think.
Collins wears No. 98 in honour of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was tortured and killed for being gay. Last night in Denver, Collins got the chance to meet Shepard’s family for the first time.
“I got them a basket,” Collins told the Associated Press after scoring three points in eight minutes of action in Brooklyn’s 112-89 victory over the Nuggets in Denver. He said it was “one of those cool treats in life.”
Collins gave Shepard’s parents a signed Nets jersey during last night’s post-game meeting. “It was great. It was all great. He’s very kind, smart, humble. It was delightful. We were happy to finally have the opportunity to meet,” Judy Shepard told AP.
The 12-year NBA veteran has worn No. 98 previously with Boston and Washington. It’s especially significant now since becoming the first openly gay male athlete in North American professional sports.
“Players wear numbers for a number of different reasons,” Humber men’s basketball head coach Shawn Collins told Humber News. “It’s respectful in honouring it.”
“I was in college at the time and when he was killed and of course it’s a tragedy what happened and I just hope that it inspires others to move forward,” the 35-year-old NBA centre told AP as featured in the Toronto Star.
“Obviously, it started off my friends and family knew why I chose that number and it’s just cool to see that so many people support it as evidenced by so many people buying the jersey,” said the seven-foot tall Stanford graduate.
Collins made headlines last April when he came out on the cover of the May edition of Sports Illustrated. It was a first for male professional sports.
Despite garnering a reputation as team leader and consummate professional, Collins struggled to find a spot in the NBA this season. His age and lack of offensive output left him off rosters until Brooklyn signed him on Sunday.
Collins’ jersey has become the top-selling jersey in the NBA this week. With more jerseys sold in the past few days than superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant, the amount of interest in Collins’ uniform is unprecedented for a player who has only signed a ten-day contract.
“Historically we don’t make player-specific merchandise available for players on 10-day contracts,” Barclays Center spokesman Barry Baum told the New York Daily News.
AUDIO: You Can Play executive director Wade Davis on Jason Collins.
“For any young person who’s LGBT that never had the possibilities that they could ever play sports and be openly gay,” You Can Play executive director Wade Davis told Humber News. “They can actually see an openly gay person play in one of the big four sports.”
Collins’ success has also been met with negative and positive comments from some on social media.
I do not support Jason Collins or believe he is an inspiration. And no I’m not a hater I just believe God’s way is the right way. “Of course on Twitter you’re going to have a few crazies,” Collins told the New York Daily News. “I’ve always done a good job of blocking those people immediately and never responding to that. But that’s Twitter. As far as people who actually have my number, the support has been overwhelmingly positive.” — Maaryn ✝ (@MaarynDavis) May 7, 2013
“There should be no publicity over this. It should be just an ordinary every day thing, like the military now,” Shepard’s father, Dennis told AP. “That’s what we’re hoping for, soon.”