NBA Player Jason Collins to Be Cheered On by Matthew Shepard's Parents

Associated Press

The first openly gay NBA player has the support of the slain college student's parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard.

The NBA's first openly gay player will have two new fans when he takes to the court in Denver against the Nuggets tonight, as the parents of Matthew Shepard are expected to be in the stands cheering him on.

Jason Collins also will be wearing the number 98 jersey in memory of Shepard, who was tortured and murdered in 1998 at age 21 and whose death prompted changes in legislation regarding hate crimes.

"Obviously, it's extremely special, and I'm very much looking forward to meeting them," he told reporters on Wednesday before the Nets played the Portland Trailblazers.

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Collins, who signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, has said he is excited to meet Judy and Dennis Shepard and previously revealed how much Matthew's legacy had influenced his own decision to come out. 

"A college classmate tried to persuade me to come out (as gay) then and there," Collins wrote in an essay for Sports Illustrated. "But I couldn't yet. My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards.

"One of the most notorious anti-gay 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."

Still wearing 98, the 35-year-old seven-foot player's jersey has been flying off shelves and became the number-one selling shirt on the NBA's website when it went on sale this week, with both men's and women's styles selling for $69.99.

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Since publicly coming out in May 2013, Collins has been an advocate of LGBT rights, but for the time being, he just wants to focus on the game at hand. 

"There are only so many ways you can write the story or tell the story," he said, "and then it will just be about basketball." 

What happens when his 10-day contract expires remains to be seen, as league rules state that you can't sign the same player for 10 days twice in the same season. This means that if the Nets want to retain him, they need to bring the veteran player on for the remainder of the season.