Banned basketball shoes: a reality check
A reader recently tipped me off about an interesting shoe technology story [thanks, Alexis!]. According to the company’s own press release, Athletic Propulsion Lab’s Concept 1 basketball shoe, featuring “Load ‘N Launch technology” is banned by the NBA because it provides an “unfair competitive advantage.”
Now, the first thing that came to mind when I read the press release was the brouhaha a few years about Spira’s spring-loaded running shoes, which they claimed were banned by USATF — despite assurances by USATF that they weren’t, in fact, banned! In fact, Spira is still using this supposed ban as a selling point:
We expect with time to have the rule overturned, but the mere existence of a rule that prohibits the use of our shoe for competition certainly provides us with a level of credibility. After all, if it wasn’t better, why would it be banned?
I think something similar is going on with the APL basketball shoe: from the press release, it sounds like they called the NBA and more or less begged them to ban the shoe. So what are these shoes supposed to do?
The technology itself features a unique device that serves as a “launch pad” housed inside a cavity at the front of the shoe, which compresses (The “Load” phase) and then releases (The “Launch” phase) as the athlete exerts force on the front of the foot.
The description of the technology’s benefits on the APL site provides a very nice lesson in the difference between science and salesmanship. To their credit, the company has performed a study comparing vertical jump in the fancy shoes versus ordinary basketball shoes, at an unnamed “leading West Coast university.” They even show the data (in graphical form) for the 12 subjects, and boast that participants saw “an increase of up to 3.5 inches instantly in their vertical leap.” Nowhere do they say anything about the average increase in vertical leap, let alone provide any information about statistical significance.
The problem is that, from the data they do show, it’s clear that only one person in the study (subject 4) came anywhere near an increase of 3.5 inches. The average looks to be a fraction of an inch at best. And we don’t know whether these were one-time tests — maybe subject 4 just had a bad jump in the regular shoes?
I give the company credit for at least paying lip service to idea that they should back their claims up with scientific studies. But what they’ve provided falls way short of the mark. If the results are so good, why not disclose all the details of the study? If they’re not that good, I guess they’ll have to rely on a bogus “ban” to get attention.