Oct. 19, 2010, could have been a day of reckoning for Adam and Ryan Goldston. That’s when the National Basketball Assn. banned sneakers made by the Goldstons’ company, Athletic Propulsion Labs. The reason? The shoes are too good at increasing a player’s vertical leap. It was the first time in the league’s 64-year history that it had outlawed a shoe for what a league spokesperson called “undue competitive advantage.” Yet far from being game over for the Goldstons, the NBA ban boosted demand. They sold more pairs of sneakers during each of the seven days following the NBA announcement than during the entire previous month.
The Goldston twins, now 24, started work on their shoe in 2007, while still undergrads at the University of Southern California. As walk-ons for the basketball team, they knew that most of the mechanics of a jump happen near the ball of the foot. Yet sneaker companies mostly focused on the heel; the shoe’s sole is thicker there, so it’s easier to add springs, special materials, or other bounce enhancers. The Goldstons teamed up with a product development engineer and designed the “Load ’N Launch.” The device is a spring that sits just in front of the ball of the foot and compresses as a wearer crouches in preparation for a jump. As he leaps, a shank of rubber that runs the length of the sole distributes the spring’s energy, propelling him upward, as if on a diving board. In tests, college students wearing the Goldstons’ shoes jumped 3 inches higher than those wearing competing brands.
The Goldstons grew up around sneakers. Their father, Mark, is a former executive at L.A. Gear and Reebok International. When the twins were 5 he brought home a prototype sneaker with blinking red lights in the heel. They suggested moving the blinkers to the side of the shoe. The tweaked design, known as L.A. Lights, became one of L.A. Gear’s most successful sneaker lines. The company sold millions of pairs yearly in the early 1990s.
When the twins incorporated their company in 2009, they took a grass-roots approach to marketing, working with sneaker-focused magazines and niche blogs and selling only online. “We wanted our dollars to go to research and development, not marketing,” Ryan Goldston says. Last year they started selling the shoe, which goes for $195, in select Foot Lockers and sporting goods stores. “We were curious to see what the technology was about,” says Mitchell B. Modell, chairman and CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods store. It’s “a true winner.”
Early next year the twins, who won’t discuss revenues, plan to release a running shoe with technology similar to Load ’N Launch but tuned for a runner’s gait and with the aim of increasing speed. No word yet on what USA Track & Field thinks.