Jason Collins’s Brooklyn Nets jersey, which he will wear in tribute to a gay student who was murdered 16 years ago, led sales in the National Basketball Association’s online store yesterday, the league said.
Collins, 35, became the first openly gay person to play in one of the four major U.S. sports when he appeared for the Nets against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 23.
Collins, who wore No. 46 against the Lakers, will switch to No. 98 from today, when the Nets visit the Portland Trail Blazers. The number commemorates Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998 because he was gay. Shepard, 21, died five days after being discovered tied to a fence in near-freezing temperatures outside Laramie, Wyoming.
Leading yesterday’s sales at the NBA store is “well deserved and we are all really happy Jason is being embraced this way,” Cameron Weiss, an agent for gay National Football League prospect Michael Sam, said in an e-mail last night. “He’s a leader.”
Shepard’s mother, Judy, will be in Denver tomorrow to see the Nets play the Nuggets, the New York Daily News reported.
“We were very touched,” Judy Shepard told the newspaper about Collins’s decision to wear No. 98. “For him to make that tribute to Matt was meaningful to us.”
Collins wore No. 98 in 38 games for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards last season before telling Sports Illustrated in April that he is gay. The center was a free agent and hadn’t signed with another team before joining the Nets on a 10-day contract with 29 games remaining on their schedule.
Shepard’s death became a touchstone for the gay-rights movement and led to the passing of a law in October 2009 by Congress, named in his honor, that added gays to the list of groups covered by U.S. hate-crime laws. It was the biggest expansion of such protections in at least a generation.
The NBA doesn’t disclose specific sales figures.
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