Published March 3, 2014
Jason Collins finally got to meet the inspiration for his basketball jersey number, No. 98.
Collins, the first openly gay NBA player wears the No. 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998 because he was gay.
Collins has been wearing that number since before he came out as gay, and will continue to wear it on his new team, the Brooklyn Nets. He wears the number not only in support of Shepard, but the Trevor Project which was established in 1998 in order to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.
Shepard’s brutal death, being beaten, tortured and left to die hanging on a fence by two men was a “wakeup call” to the rest of America that led to changes in hate crime legislation, his mother Judy Shepard said.
Collins and Shepard spoke on the phone when Collins came out gay and got to meet when Collins came to with the Nets to play the Denver Nuggets. He said that Shepard’s death greatly affected him.
“I was in college at the time when he was killed and of course it’s a tragedy what happened and I just hope that it inspires others to move forward,” Collins said.
Matthew’s parents were excited to meet the player who brought them a basket, a blowout and an autographed No. 98 jersey.
“It was delightful,” Shepard said. “We were happy to finally have the opportunity to meet.”
Collins told CNN: ”I’ve grown so much as an individual, I’ve come across so many great people, great organizations, heard so many great stories, inspiring stories,” Collins said, adding “… it’s nice to have a positive impact on someone’s else’s life, and I feel like with my actions that I’ve had a positive impact on someone’s else’s life.”
“It’s really cool to see the support that’s out there,” Collins said. “And yeah, it’s cool to see that people are going out there and buying the jersey and, you know, wearing it with pride. So I hope that continues, and you know I’ll keep wearing the jersey and keep going out there and trying to, you know, do my job.”
Collins added that slipping on the No. 98 jersey with the significance no longer a closely held secret meant a lot to him.
“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,” he said.
In fact, Collins’ jersey has become the highest selling jersey in the NBA. The NBA announced Friday that it will donate all proceeds from the sale of Collins’ jerseys to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Matthew Shepard Foundation. In addition, the league will auction off Collins’ autographed, game-worn jerseys to benefit the same organizations.
Still, Shepard’s husband is waiting for the day sexuality is no longer an issue.
“There should be no publicity over this,” he said. “It should just be an ordinary every day thing, like the military now. That’s what we’re hoping for soon.”