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NBA banned shoes designed to boost leaping ability

In 2010, two brothers with no previous experience in the sportswear business created a shoe that helped players “jumped more.” After a campaign in SLAM, the NBA was forced to intervene.

APL Concept 1

It might sound like an urban myth, but it actually happened. It is not the plot of an episode of a American drama series, from before, a television-movie or version of Space Jam. No, it happened - the NBA banned the use of a training shoe that simply made the wearer jump higher. The manufacturer was (and still is) Athletic Propulsion Labs, and the story goes back to 2010.

Before the start of the 2010-11 season, the NBA made sure that no player walked out onto the court wearing shoes that had come out of nowhere. The league decided that one specific brand of training shoes were in breach of the rules as they provided “an unfair, competitive advantage”. They were referring to the APL Concept 1 model, designed and manufactured by Athletic Propulsion Labs. The shoes cost 300 dollars a pair but sold well with all of the publicity gained because of the ban. Indirectly, by banning the APL Concept 1s, the NBA was legitimizing, that with those shoes, indeed, you jumped more.

The brand released a statement immediately after the NBA’s intervention: “For the first time in its 64-year history, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has banned a new line of shoes based on the league’s rule against an “unfair competitive advantage” that increases a player’s vertical leap. The league’s ban on Athletic Propulsion Labs’ Concept 1 confirms the company’s claims that the shoe, with its Load ‘N Launch™ Technology, performs as advertised. No professional player will be allowed to wear the product in games for the upcoming 2010-2011 NBA season. This action comes on the 25th anniversary of the NBA’s ban on Nike’s Air Jordan shoes, albeit for reasons of their colorful appearance rather than any performance advantage”.

Studies indicated that the APL Concept 1 design created a sort of spring effect, propelling rather than absorbing post-jump shock, and allowed the vertical jump to increase by as much as 3.5 inches. The creators were the Goldston brothers, Ryan and Adam. When they were students (both were active in sports - football and basketball) at the University of Southern California, the renowned USC, they had this idea within an entrepreneurship program - to produce exclusive, luxury training shoes that helped them perform better on the basketball court. Initially, their tutors didn’t take them seriously, but they brought the concept to life, designing a prototype shoe without any previous experience in the field.

With almost no capital and no chance of putting together a major advertising campaign, the Goldston brothers invested the only money they had, and with a single shot took out a double-page ad (titled: ”Stop dreaming, jump higher”) in SLAM magazine, the bible of American basketball, for fans... and players too - from the street courts to the NBA. Soon, professionals began to call, also their agents, their families - all keen to try the new jump-enhancing shoes... finally the NBA had to intervene. They decided to investigate and, after months of silence and secret tests, they announced the veto. The Goldstons, at least, used the opportunity to sell their product “to many shoe geeks but also to professional players who had contracts with other brands but wanted to have our shoes too.”

In 2020, they returned, with two new models, Superfuture and Concept X, priced at $400 and doubled down on performance-enhancing technology. Last year, they also launched a model (Streamline) that, for 300 dollars, helped those who were crazy about running to run better. They had come up with the idea during a trip to Tokyo and observing, exhausted, the texture of Japanese pancakes: “thick but soft and light”.

The Goldstons persist with their business. At least they have the honour of having created the only shoes that the NBA banned because they provided a sporting advantage. Nothing to do with that already legendary matter of the veto of the Air Jordan 1 for being red and black and breaking the dress code of the League in the 80s. So, you know, Nike took advantage of the episode to build an empire - it took care of the $5,000 fine that Jordan had to pay every time he wore them... and made sure everyone knew they were banned shoes. Jordan himself said: “We are all like kids. If your parents told you not to do something, you felt more like doing it…”