Named after a celebrity, Macon’s Shaquille O’Neal grows up

alopez@macon.comJanuary 1, 2014 

In 1993, “Shaquille” was the 89th most popular baby name for boys in Georgia. One hundred and six boys were given the name in the state that year.

Latoshia Fordham, of Macon, was just 14 years old back then, but she was pregnant. She said she was watching Shaquille O’Neal play professional basketball on TV and decided to name her son after him.

When Shaquille O’Neal Fordham was born in 1994, his first name was the 92nd most popular for baby boys in the state, but by the next year it disappeared from the top 100 altogether.

The name peaked in 1993 after O’Neal’s rookie season in the NBA. That year it was 181st on the list of most popular for names for boys in the country. And although O’Neal would go on to enjoy a legendary 19-season career, his name disappeared from the top 1,000 in the country by 1997, according to the Social Security Administration.

Today, Georgia’s Shaquilles have entered adulthood. Several are following in their namesake’s footsteps in basketball, but others, like Macon’s Shaquille Fordham, are still trying to figure out their destiny.

Joseph Toney fathered Shaquille O’Neal, the famous basketball player turned TV analyst, and he also created his unique name.

Toney believes Shaquille Rashaun means “Little Warrior,” he said from Newark, N.J., when reached by phone, adding that he changed the Arabic spelling to be different.

“At that time I was studying a little Islam and always liked the name,” he said, referring to “Shakil” or “Shakeel.”

Though he’s now estranged from his son, Toney said he likes the idea that parents chose O’Neal as a role model. He said he hopes the Shaquilles now reaching adulthood were inspired by his son’s athletic accomplishments.

“Just follow your dreams,” Toney said.

Shaquille Goodwin, a 1994 baby born in Decatur, is playing forward for the Memphis Tigers men’s basketball team. A 6-foot 8-inch college sophomore, Goodwin is projected to be picked up by an NBA team if he declares for its rookie draft.

Meanwhile in north Florida, Shaquille Johnson, born in 1994 in Atlanta, is trying to recover from being dismissed from the University of Auburn’s men’s basketball program in July and is now playing for the Northwest Florida State College Raiders. A 6-foot 4-inch high-flyer, Johnson can jump in the air and shuffle a ball between his legs before coming down for a dunk.

Macon’s Shaquille Fordham may be the only 1994 baby who carries both Shaquille and O’Neal in his name. People don’t call him by his last name, he said. They call him Shaquille O’Neal.

“When I was little I used to like watching him in movies like ‘Kazaam’ and ‘Man of Steel,’” Fordham said of the former professional basketball player and sometimes actor. “Me and him have the same name. That’s my icon.”

Fordham, who stands 5 feet 9 inches tall, said his basketball days are over because he suffers from asthma and bad knees.

“I liked to play in the paint like Shaq did,” he said. “He’s still one of my favorite centers, always will be. Can’t nobody forget when he shattered the rim when he played with the Magic. Can’t nobody forget that.”

Fordham is the oldest of Latoshia’s six children, the youngest being 4 months old. Welfare was the main source of income for the family while Shaquille was growing up, Latoshia said. He attended Howard High School but did not graduate.

Earlier this month, Macon police arrested him on a burglary charge. Fordham said he was not an active participant in the incident that led to his arrest. He is facing a court date in February.

Now Fordham said he’s trying to turn his life around.

“It really made me open my eyes,” he said about his jail experience.

He wants to earn his GED and enlist in the Navy, he said.

“It’s time to change and man up,” he said.

Fordham said he wants to make sure the Shaquille name lives on after him.

“I’ve always said it to myself,” he said. “If I have a son, I’d name him after me.”

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