PORTLAND, Ore. - Jason Collins wasn't expecting this.
Collins, the first openly gay athlete to play in one of North America's top four sports, seemed a bit taken aback that his No. 98 Nets jersey is a top seller on NBA.com. Collins beat out the likes of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and all of the league's main superstars, no doubt a humbling moment for the 35-year-old, 12-year veteran.
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"It's really cool," Collins said before the Nets met the Blazers at the Moda Center Wednesday night. "Obviously, it's sort of uncharted waters. But it's really cool."
Collins' sudden popularity didn't diminish any yesterday. A league spokesperson said four of the top five jersey-selling items centered around the newest Net. Besides his Nets replica black road jersey and the home white one, a women's replica black jersey and also a men's T-shirt were flying off the shelves.
"That's why I guess I couldn't buy one," Nets coach Jason Kidd said.
Asked if he's surprised by his jersey's popularity in such a short time, Collins chuckled.
"I really wasn't thinking along those lines," he said. "But it's really cool that a lot of people are interested in going out and getting a Brooklyn 98 jersey."
In his debut Sunday against the Lakers in Los Angeles, Collins sported No. 46, which is just an extra, random jersey the Nets have hanging around as a spare. But Wednesday night represented the first time Collins was able to don his No. 98, which is his way of paying special tribute to Matthew Shepard, who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998.
Shepard's family is tentatively scheduled to meet with Collins when the Nets take on the Nuggets in Denver tonight, a visit he declined to get into specifics about, preferring to keep it as personal as possible.
However, he couldn't deny it's a moment he's eagerly anticipating. "It's extremely special," Collins said, "and I'm very much looking forward to them."
Collins apparently still isn't all that comfortable with the abundance of coverage his return to the NBA is receiving. While most of the other players were free to warm up as they prepared for the morning shootaround, Collins was surrounded by a throng of Portland-area media that normally wouldn't have been there.
So just to perhaps lighten the mood, Deron Williams snapped a picture on his smartphone as Collins addressed the media, getting a laugh out of his new teammate.
"Obviously, I didn't have this much media attention when I got traded to the Celtics from the Wizards," Collins said.