There are many ways to measure one’s legacy, but in my opinion one of the best is by how many people name children after you. Shaquille O’Neal’s ultimate mark on humanity isn’t his four NBA championship rings, his two scoring titles, the critically-acclaimed rap album “Shaq Diesel”, or defeating Charles Barkley in the world’s first and only five-hole golf match. It’s the amount of college-aged kids currently named Shaquille or some derivative.
We are in the midst of the Shaq Boom. Based on the number of college basketball players that participated in at least 10% of their team’s minutes, I have quantified that trend here.
Year Shaqs 0-1989 0* 1990 1* 1991 1* 1992 1* 1993 0* 1994 0* 1995 0* 1996 0* 1997 0* 1998 0* 1999 0* 2000 0* 2001 0* 2002 0* 2003 0* 2004 0* 2005 0 2006 0 2007 0 2008 0 2009 1 2010 1 2011 2 2012 6 2013 11
Marshall’s Shaquille Johnson represents the lone Shaq in ‘09 and ‘10. His bio indicates he was born on April 11, 1990. That would have been just after the completion of O’Neal’s freshman season at LSU, where the original Shaq posted nice numbers, but nothing like the historic figures he would produce in his sophomore and junior seasons. Nonetheless, it was widely considered he’d have a successful NBA career by then and Johnson’s parents were part of the earliest users of the name. The current crop of Shaqs was born later in O’Neal’s college career or in his rookie NBA season. Shaq had become a household name even among casual sports fans by then.
But very quickly it became lame to name your kid Shaq. According to the Social Security Administration, here’s where Shaquille ranked among the most popular baby names in the U.S. by year.
Year Shaq Rank 1990 >1000 1991 720 1992 426 1993 181 1994 234 1995 458 1996 662 1997 >1000
Shaq dropped out of the top 1000 in 1997, never to appear again. Based on this information, it appears the number of Shaqs should peak this season or next, and by 2019 we may be completely Shaq-free again. That will give way to the Kobe Generation, and Bryant’s first name has oddly had much more staying power.
Kobe first appeared in the nation’s top 1000 in 1997, spanning the end of his rookie season and the beginning of his second season, and it’s stayed there every year since. The name’s popularity broadly peaked between 1998 and 2003, where all but one year was spent in the top 300. In 2012, it still ranked 506th. Parents may admire Bryant’s team loyalty or use of cutting-edge medical technology.
We can never know those reasons for sure, but we can say that since 1997, Kobe has been the name of choice for parents opting to name their children after basketball players. (Lebron has yet to crack the top 1000.) From this we can be confident we’ll see the first-ever college basketball player named Kobe sometime in the 2016 to 2018 seasons. And while the supply of Shaqs will peter out right quick, Kobe’s name will be appearing on college basketball rosters well into the 2030’s. Kobe Bryant may have skipped college, but Kobe will be playing college basketball for many, many, many years to come.
[Update: Turns out the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective beat me by about 16 months on this. Here was their take on the phenomenon.]