NBA fans snap up jerseys honoring first openly gay player

NBA fans snap up jerseys honoring first openly gay player

JERSEY: Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins (46) waits to enter the game against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Staples Center. Photo: Reuters/Gary A. Vasquez

By Edward Upright

NEW YORK (Reuters) – On Saturday veteran basketball center Jason Collins was unsigned. Now his “Collins 98” jersey is the NBA’s best-selling shirt, outperforming the league’s global superstars.

Collins, 35, had been without a team after publicly coming out as gay in April 2013. Last weekend, he signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets and made history on Sunday as the first openly gay athlete to play in North America’s major leagues.

After the game – Collins played for 11 minutes and didn’t score a single point – the NBA started selling his jersey at its New York store and online, and it flew off the shelves. By Tuesday it was the league’s most popular jersey, said Vicky Picca, NBA Senior Vice President.

“Jason Collins’ return to the league represents a historic moment and fans continue to show their support by making Jason’s jersey the top-selling jersey on today,” Picca said on Wednesday.

The NBA declined to provide sales figures.

Collins got a congratulatory message on Twitter from football player Michael Sam, who came out earlier this month and is likely to be the first gay player in the NFL after the league draft in May. “Congratulations to my friend @jasoncollins34 – excited to see you do work out there #Brooklyn,” Sam tweeted.

Collins, who wore jersey number 98 for Boston and Washington in 2012 and 2013, chose that number in tribute to Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was brutally murdered in October 1998.

He hasn’t worn his famous jersey yet for the Nets, which did not have time to print the shirt for Sunday’s game, leaving him to wear the only number available: 46.

The Nets will play the Portland Trail Blazers in Oregon on Wednesday night – and Collins will wear his No. 98 jersey then, a Nets spokesman said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman)

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