Jason Collins presents a jersey to the family of Matthew Shepard. (@JasonCollins34)
Nets center Jason Collins presented an autographed No. 98 jersey to the family of Matthew Shepard in Denver on Thursday.
Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, wears the No. 98 in honor of Shepard, a homosexual man who was tortured and murdered in 1998 at the age of 21. The 13-year vet also donned No. 98 while playing with the Celtics and the Wizards during the 2012-13 season, before he came out as gay last April.
“The number has great significance to the gay community,” Collins explained when he announced his sexuality in a Sports Illustrated essay. “One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found.”
The 35-year-old Collins was signed to a 10-day contract by Brooklyn on Sunday and made his debut against the Lakers that night. He scored three points in eight minutes in the Nets' 112-89 victory over the Nuggets on Thursday. After the game, Collins posted a photo of himself presenting a black Brooklyn jersey to Shepard's parents, Judy and Dennis, and his brother, Logan.
"I'm so fortunate to have met Matthew Shepard's parents and brother tonight after [the Nets'] win tonight in Denver," Collins wrote on Twitter.
''It was delightful," Judy Shepard said of the meeting, according to the Associated Press. "We were happy to finally have the opportunity to meet."
Collins' No. 98 was the best-selling jersey on the NBA's online store earlier this week.
''I did not want to give them a sweaty jersey, so this is a backup,'' Collins said, according to the AP, adding that his meeting with the Shepards was "one of those cool treats in life."
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal hate crime laws to cover victims who were targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
"We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break break bones but to break spirits. Not only to inflict harm but to instill fear," Obama said at the time, according to FoxNews.com. "No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love."
Judy Shepard has been an advocate of anti-hate crime legislation for years and the Shepards established the Matthew Shepard Foundation to pursue civil rights protections for the LGBT community.
"Matt would see this as a great day," Dennis Shepard told ESPN.com after Collins' signing. "Jason helps those kids go ahead and live their lives to the fullest, and take their talent in academics, in sports, wherever it can take them."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement Sunday acknowledging the significance of Collins' signing, which marked the first time an openly gay athlete has been active in any of the four major North American sports.