DENVER, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Jason Collins might be playing limited minutes in the NBA these days, but his impact has been historic.
Following the Brooklyn Nets win over the Denver Nuggets Thursday night, Collins -- America's first openly gay athlete in its four major sports -- met with the parents and brother of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was slain in a brutal antigay hate crime in 1998.
Currently playing on a 10-day contract with the Nets, the 7-foot center wears No. 98 in Shepard's honor. He wore that number last season as well, during stints with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, even before coming out as gay.
Collins discussed the significance of "98" in his Sports Illustrated essay in which he announced his own sexual orientation. “One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998," Collins wrote. "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.” Collins was a Stanford student at the time Shepard was killed.
He presented an autographed black-and-white jersey to the Shepard family after Thursday night's game, a moment he captured on Twitter.
Earlier this week, Collins' No. 98 was the best-selling jersey in the NBA's online store, proof of the tremendous affect Collins is having in the sports world.
According to Matthew Shepard's father Dennis, "By bringing out Matt's story again, Jason is encouraging others to view people who are different in a new light. He's also giving a lot of kids out there hope, something to live for."