Collins meets with Shepard's parents

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 28, 2014 at 3:40 am •  Published: February 28, 2014
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DENVER (AP) — Jason Collins had plenty of gifts for Matthew Shepard's parents: a basket, a blowout, an autographed No. 98 jersey that he wears in honor of their son.

They also shared some laughs.

Collins played the final eight minutes of the Brooklyn Nets' 112-89 romp over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night, and although his three points and four fouls weren't much to look at in the boxscore, rarely has the 35-year-old center been this proud of a performance.

"I got them a bucket," the center said.

After his cameo in Brooklyn's recovery from a 44-point loss against the Trail Blazers 24 hours earlier, Collins, the first openly gay athlete in America's four major sports, met with the parents of the slain Wyoming college student who was tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay.

Collins, who signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday, said the chance to meet Dennis and Judy Shepard was "one of those cool treats in life."

He gave them a signed black and white jersey — although not a game-worn one.

"I did not want to give them a sweaty jersey, so this is a backup," he said with a laugh.

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.

"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.

Collins wore No. 98 with both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards even before coming out last spring. The jersey has been a big seller on NBAStore.com, something Collins said honored Shepard and the Trevor Project, which was established in 1998 and aims to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.