DENVER - Jason Collins was out of work at this time a week ago, never imagining he'd be in the position in which he found himself Thursday night in the Mile High City.
"No, this is sort of just one of those things that happens," Collins said before the Nets took on the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center, "and one of those cool treats in life."
Collins was eager to have a postgame meeting with the parents of Matthew Shepard, the person who's the reason Collins is wearing No. 98 on his jersey. Shepard was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998 at the age of 21 while attending the University of Wyoming.
So Shepard's tale has a heartfelt meaning for the Nets' 7-foot center, the reason for his eagerness to chat with Judy and Dennis Shepard.
"I was in college at the time when he was killed and, of course, it's a tragedy what happened," Collins said. "And I just hope that it inspired others to move forward. Again, I'm looking forward to meeting his parents. I've had the honor and pleasure of speaking with his mom last spring and she was a cool lady, a cool woman. So I'm looking forward to meeting them face-to-face."
As for the general fan reaction when Collins checks into the game, it continues to be mainly positive. He wasn't exactly sure if he'd be accepted in a more conservative city as opposed to say, Los Angeles, Portland or here at the base of the Rocky Mountains, preferring to let any hypothetical scenarios play out first. But there's a part of him that generally feels as if there's a lot more acceptance of gays within American culture these days, something he's pleased to see.
"It's great that, as a society, we're moving, at least in the sports world, to a place where all of us can be our true authentic selves," Collins said, "and still contribute to our teams, and hopefully encourage other parts of the country and other parts of society to also move forward and bring people together, not exclude people or discriminate against people."
When he wakes up Friday morning in the team hotel before the Nets head to Milwaukee in the afternoon for the final game of their seven-game "circus trip" spanning both sides of the All-Star break, Collins will have four days remaining on the 10-day contract he inked Sunday in Los Angeles. He said he hasn't been given any assurances beyond that and isn't viewing the three games left before his contract expires as any sort of audition, making it clear he has nothing to prove after having spent 12 seasons in the league.
But there's nothing he'd love more than to stick around for the next few months and see what he can do to help the Nets make the playoffs for a second straight season.
"Definitely," Collins said. "This is a great group of guys. Again, it goes back to I've been teammates with a lot of these guys in the past, and the coaching staff, J-Kidd and the organization. Of course it's my goal to continue the rest of the season with them. But as for now, I can't focus on that right now. I have to focus on the Denver Nuggets."