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Originator of the oversized name, Shaquille O'Neal eager to see what Shaq Lawson can do for Bills

For a couple days, he had no name.

Then he was given one of the biggest.

In 1994, there was only one Shaquille, a mastodon of a man, a pop-culture phenomenon and one of the world's most dominant athletes.

Lawrence Lawson, a former college basketball player, marveled at how long his newborn son was and eventually decided to name him Shaquille, too.

Shaq Lawson grew into a 6-foot-3, 269-pound defensive end. The Buffalo Bills drafted Lawson in the first-round Thursday night, making him the latest Shaq to follow Shaquille O'Neal's size-23 footsteps into the major leagues.

"He was a hell of a player at Clemson," O'Neal told me Saturday night from the Turner Sports "Inside the NBA" set in Atlanta. "I think he's going to do big things in Buffalo, has the potential to come in and dominate early. The sky's the limit for him. I can't wait to see him play."

There are many Shaquilles now. They've been surfacing throughout college and pro sports for a few years now.

That's how O'Neal and Lawson struck up a relationship.

"I have Google alerts any time 'Shaq' comes up," said the 7-foot-1 O'Neal, who was listed at 325 pounds during his career. "The past four or five years -- I think I've ran into about 150 athletes named Shaq -- Shaq Lawson kept coming up.

"So I've known who he was and been a fan of him. I'm most proud of him."

There might be 100,000 kids named after Michael Jordan out there, but nobody would know unless they announced it.

Inspiration for the name Shaquille is pretty obvious.

"It makes me feel pretty good," O'Neal said. "When I was coming up it was an unpopular name. I got teased a lot. People would pronounce it 'Sha-qwill,' call me 'Sasquatch.' But now it's becoming a common name."

Lawson is the seventh NFL Shaq. There hadn't been any before 2014.

The statistical archive site shows no versions of Shaquille until O'Neal started playing for LSU in 1989. There wasn't another until Shaquille Johnson played basketball at Marshall University 19 years later.

The site now lists 40 college football and 23 college basketball players named Shaquille, Shaquiell, Shaquill, Shaquil, Shaquelle, Shaqquan, Shaquem, Shaquery or plain Shaq. None predates 2008.

Shaq Thompson was drafted in two sports. The Boston Red Sox drafted him to play the outfield in 2012, but he didn't make it past the Gulf Coast League.

The Carolina Panthers took Thompson in the first round last year. He started at strong-side linebacker in the Super Bowl.

"I told Reebok we should sign up all the Shaqs," said O'Neal, possibly joking. "They said they were going to look into it."

The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, using name data available through WolframAlpha, found 4,073 Shaquilles were born from 1992 through 1995. The peak was 1,784 in 1993.

The Harvard group also found 7,551 newborn Kobes, coinciding with the emergence of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, from 1998 through 2003, with a peak of 1,551 in 2001.

So a Kobe outbreak likely is headed to college sports in a few years.

Athletes aren't the only namesakes. There weren't any Denzels in college football or basketball until 18 years after Denzel Washington's performance in "Glory" brought his first Oscar Award. There have been 44 Denzels since 2007. Three Denzels have reached the NFL.

For the record, nobody in the registry has the first name Ringo.

"My mother, when she had me out of wedlock, kind of became an outcast in the family for a little while," O'Neal said. "My grandmother once she saw me knew I was going to be special. She would tell everybody at church, 'This one right here's going to be special.'

"My mother said she knew I was going to be different. So she wanted to give me a different name. She met a guy in downtown Newark, and he gave her a book of Muslim names to look through. She just picked that name out."

O'Neal vaulted the name to prominence. He was the NCAA player of the year at Louisiana State, the NBA's top draft choice in 1992 (two years before Lawson's birth) and a 15-time All-Star. O'Neal won three championships with the Lakers and another with the Miami Heat. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September.

Inside his first four seasons with the Orlando Magic he also starred in motion pictures "Kazaam" and "Blue Chips," had his own martial-arts video game, "Shaq Fu," and went platinum with his debut rap album, "Shaq Diesel."

"When I was coming up," O'Neal said, "everybody was comparing me to Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell. I made a conscious effort not to try to be like those guys or better than those guys. I just wanted to be myself.

"Then, luckily, by being myself I built my brand. I became a household name."

O'Neal conceded he does feel some responsibility to be a role model. His name is unusual and conspicuous. At some point in any Shaq's life, that young boy will contemplate who he has been named after.

O'Neal called Lawson last week to wish him luck in the NFL Draft and to relish their shared Shaqhood.

"I stick to my principles, and one of them very simply is to have fun," O'Neal said. "I just wanted to do the right thing, play with a passion, be involved in the communities where I lived and leave a good impression.

"To have parents want to name their kids after me is a big honor."

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