Collins, who made history as the first openly gay athlete in any men’s major league team sport when he played with the Nets for the first time Sunday, wore the number last season with both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards as a silent sign of gay pride before coming out. Since publicly revealing that he is gay, Collins acknowledged that he chose the number in reference to the year of Shepard’s murder and the rise of hate-crime laws.
The Nets were unable to accommodate Collins’s request for his desired number during his first game with the Nets against the Lakers last Sunday, he will debut his new jersey when the Nets will take on the on the Nuggets Thursday night in Denver. The game will take place roughly a two-hour drive from the spot where Shepard was murdered 16 years ago. Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, plans to be in the audience that night cheering Collins on and says she hopes to welcome him with open arms if given the chance.
“I’m just happy for him. It’s wonderful that he’s playing again,” she told the Daily News. “I’d tell him thank you and give him a big hug. I have not met him, but everyone I know that has said he’s a gentleman, kind and generous. I’d like very much to thank him and congratulate him.”