Jason Collins meets with Shepards

Updated: February 28, 2014, 2:00 PM ET
By Paul Willis and Mike Mazzeo | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

DENVER -- Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins met privately with the parents and brother of the late Matthew Shepard following the team's 112-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night at Pepsi Center.

The player gave Dennis and Judy Shepard an autographed, No. 98 black and white jersey, and laughter could be heard throughout the 10-minute meeting.

Collins, who became the first active openly gay player in NBA history Sunday after signing a 10-day contract with the Nets, wears No. 98 in honor of Shepard, who was beaten, tortured and murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming.

"It was great," 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. "It was all great. He's very kind, smart, humble. It was delightful. We were happy to finally have the opportunity to meet."

She said receiving his jersey was "cool. It was very sweet, very genuine and very thoughtful."

"I did not want to give them a sweaty jersey," Collins said with a laugh when asked whether it was game-worn. "This is a backup."

The Shepards drove up from Casper, Wyo., to attend the game and meet with Collins, who previously said the opportunity was "one of those cool treats in life."

"It's going to be very special meeting with them after the game," Collins said before tipoff. "I'm looking forward to it. ... I was in college at the time he was killed, and of course it was a tragedy. I just hope it inspires others to move forward."

Denis Shepard said after the meeting that 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, everyday thing, like the military now," he said. "That's what we're hoping for, soon. Thank you very much."

[+] EnlargeShepard
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiDenis Shepard said after meeting with Jason Collins that he hopes the day quickly comes when someone's sexuality is a non-issue.

"His career is the most important thing," Judy Shepard added as they walked away. "That's it."

Dennis Shepard previously praised Collins, saying he is an inspiration to gay children everywhere by encouraging them to live openly and honestly.

"Jason helps those kids go ahead and live their lives to the fullest, and take their talent in academics, in sports, wherever it can take them," Shepard told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor on Monday. "Some kids are still living hidden lives, living in fear, and the more you see Jason and Michael Sam and others encouraging them to be themselves, they'll understand they can get to the top of whatever ladder they're climbing."

Collins also finished Thursday night's game with three points -- his first three points of the season.

Before Thursday night, Collins, who also picked up four fouls in playing the final eight minutes against the Nuggets, had not scored in an NBA game since April 17, 2013. He missed a shot in each of his first two games with the Nets but connected on the second of a pair of free throws with 2:39 remaining Thursday night, then knocked down a 17-foot jumper exactly a minute later.

Collins was brought in for his ability to defend the post, set hard screens and box out, not score.

Asked whether he was happy to see Collins get into the scoring column, Nets coach Jason Kidd joked, "I was happy to see him play [eight] minutes and not foul out."

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.

The jersey wasn't ready for his first game with the Nets -- he wore a spare with his name hastily added for the contest against the Lakers on Sunday -- but he wore No. 98 against the Blazers on Wednesday night and against the Nuggets on Thursday night.

Collins said slipping on that jersey with the significance no longer a closely held secret meant a lot to him.

"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.

Collins was a free agent when he announced at the end of last season that he is gay, and the 35-year-old center remained unsigned until the Nets needed another big man.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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