When Jason Collins wore number 98 on his jersey last season — a tribute to Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student tortured and murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998 — many fans were moved by the gesture. Among those brought to tears, Fox Sports reported last year, were Shepard’s parents. “It made me cry,” said Judy Shepard last year.
Dennis Shepard said at the time he hoped someday to meet Collins. “I would really love to speak to him, because I know Judy and I would just like to thank him… because, No. 1, he had the courage to come out, period, and No. 2 that he wore 98 in honor of Matt, the year that he died. He couldn’t have been that old (when it happened), so it must have had a tremendous impact on him, the story behind Matt, for him to want to do that. And then to wear it all this time without telling people why until today, that’s incredible.”
Yesterday they got their chance to meet Collins, who brought them a gift — a #98 jersey. “I did not want to give them a sweaty jersey, so this is a backup,” he said with a laugh. They met in a room at the Denver Nuggets arena, and according to the press accounts, “more laughter could be heard throughout their meeting in a room between the teams’ locker rooms that lasted about 10 minutes before Collins got on the team bus.”
The Associated Press further reported:
“It was delightful. We were happy to finally have the opportunity to meet,” said Judy Shepard, who had spoken with Collins by phone last year after Collins announced he was gay and wore No. 98 because of her son.
Her husband said he hopes the day quickly comes when someone’s sexuality is a non-issue. “There should be no publicity over this. It should be just an ordinary every day thing, like the military now,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping for, soon.”
“His career is the most important thing,” Judy Shepard added as they walked away. “That’s it.”
Collins said Shepard’s death had a deep effect on 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.
The t-shirt has become a big seller on NBAStore, which Collins said is a sign of support for Shepard. “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.