The NBA and its 30 teams rarely make and sell merchandise bearing the names and numbers of players on 10-day contracts. This seems like a pretty reasonable way to do business; after all, 10-day players rarely stick with one team for even the duration of the regular season after they sign, let alone make enough of an impact on a fan base to justify the time and expense that goes into manufacturing memorabilia like jerseys, shirts and shirseys specifically celebrating a player who could be forgotten a mere week and a half after he first came into town.
[Related: Buy your Jason Collins jersey here]
Collins, a 7-foot reserve center and 13-year NBA veteran, announced last April that he is gay. His recent addition by the Brooklyn Nets makes him the first openly gay player ever to suit up for and check into an NBA game, representing a landmark occurrence in the histories of the NBA, American professional sports, the gay rights movement and multiple other broader cultural contexts. Even if he doesn't wind up sticking on the Nets roster for the remainder of the 2013-14 NBA season, the fact that he has appeared on it at all constitutes something many fans, including those who might not previously have been especially interested in purchasing team apparel, want to celebrate.
According to Seth Berkman of The New York Times, "On Monday, inquiries by those eager to buy a Nets jersey with Collins’s name started to multiply." Thus, on Tuesday, this became available:
That's a Jason Collins replica jersey, available in Brooklyn's road black and home white, selling for $69.95 on NBAstore.com. It went on sale Tuesday after what Vicky Picca, the NBA’s senior vice president for licensing and business affairs, told the Times was an “unprecedented” level of interest "from people interested in buying something with Collins’s name on it." Those inquiries were apparently backed up by purchases, according to Alex Raskin of the Wall Street Journal:
After signing a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday and playing in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers later that night, Collins found his No. 98 the top-selling jersey at the NBA Store and its website on Tuesday, according to a league spokesperson.
Exact sales figures were not released, but the spokesperson said the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue and NBAStore.com received "hundreds of inquiries" even before Collins's jersey went on sale on Tuesday.
And it wasn't just the (comparatively) reasonably priced replicas, evidently:
Three Collins authentic jerseys purchased at the NBA Store after it went on the rack at 5. Saw them nearly get a fourth. But for $250?!?!
— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) February 26, 2014
— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) February 26, 2014
That, one would suspect, will change in short order, given the high demand. It might not change immediately at the official Nets team store at Barclays Center, however; Barry Baum, the Nets’ executive vice president and chief communications officer, told the Times "that if, and when, a player became signed for the entire season — which could easily happen in Collins’s case — his merchandise would go on sale at the team store and on the team’s website." In the interim, though, it might only be available via the league's store and on the league's website, not inside the Nets' own venue, which would mean that the revenues from sales of the jerseys are split among the NBA's 30 teams, according to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell. (Might want to think about pulling the rest-of-the-season trigger, Nets.)
One interesting note: The jersey that's drawing so much interest and reportedly selling so well isn't actually the jersey that Collins wore in his first game with the Nets.
Collins wore No. 46 against the Lakers on Sunday, but that was because it was literally the only spare jersey the Nets had available — "a generic jersey the team travels with in case of emergencies," according to Berkman. Collins is expected to don No. 98 — which he wore during the 2012-13 season as a quiet tribute to Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who was murdered in a hate crime in 1998 — when the Nets take on the Portland Trail Blazers in Oregon on Wednesday night.
The revelation that Collins' number selection with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards was intended as a silent sign of solidarity with their late son floored Matthew's parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, and his return to the NBA floor has Dennis Shepard thinking about all the positive things that can come of LGBT youth seeing Collins on the court, according to ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor:
"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 said by phone 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." [...]
"I was watching Jason and his brother [Jarron] back when they played at Stanford," Dennis Shepard said, "and I remember Judy having a big smile on her face when Jason came out and said why he was wearing 98. By bringing out Matt's story again, Jason is encouraging others to view people who are different in a new light. He's also giving a lot of kids out there hope, something to live for."
According to O'Connor, Dennis, Judy and their son Logan Shepard plan to make the drive from Wyoming to Colorado on Thursday night to watch the Nets take on the Denver Nuggets and see Collins suit up in his No. 98 jersey. By then, it's a decent bet that Collins won't be the only person in Pepsi Center wearing one.
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