The meeting was private, quiet and poignant for the man who wears the No. 98 jersey in the NBA.
Jason Collins, the Brooklyn Nets center who is the first openly gay player in the league, met with the parents and brother of the late Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming man who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime, after the Nets’ game in Denver on Thursday night. He signed a No. 98 jersey for Dennis and Judy Shepard in the 10-minute meeting and afterward posted a photo on Twitter.
Collins began wearing No. 98 last season with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards and spoke over the phone with Judy Shepard after announcing last April that he is gay. “The number has great significance to the gay community,” Collins wrote in a Sports Illustrated essay.
Collins, who signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday, now has the league’s top-selling jersey.
“It was all great. He’s very kind, smart, humble,” Judy Shepard said (via ESPN New York). “It was delightful. We were happy to finally have the opportunity to meet.”
Although the Shepards were honored, Dennis Shepard hopes for a day when being openly gay in pro sports is not a big deal.
“There should be no publicity over this. It should be just an ordinary, everyday thing, like the military now,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping for, soon. Thank you very much.”