A delicate balance

To get to these heights, the Rodarmels followed a path that has become familiar in the sports apparel market. In the late 1960s, an ex–University of Oregon runner named Phil Knight—with design help from his former coach Bill Bowerman—produced a new kind of running shoe. He packed a few into the back of his green Plymouth Valiant and sold them at track meets across the Pacific Northwest. They were the first products of a company that would eventually be known as Nike. Thirty years later Kevin Plank, a University of Maryland football player, sought to develop a sweatproof athletic shirt. He stenciled an interlocking UA logo on the shirts, urged his teammates to try them out, and called them Under Armour.

What lifted Power Balance from its own cottage-industry roots was a similar leveraging of relationships with athletes. The Rodarmels had a competitive advantage: they grew up as part of a network of elite athletes in the Orange County suburb of Mission Viejo. Troy, 36, was a basketball player at California Baptist University and an avid longboarder with many connections in the Orange County surfing scene. Josh played football at Mission Viejo High School.

If there were a Juilliard for quarterbacks, it might be Mission Viejo. Players who live outside the district have been known to bend the rules in order to join the football team led by Bob Johnson, a quarterback guru whose son Rob spent nine seasons in the NFL. In 2002, Josh Rodarmel was good enough to start for Mission. He was preceded and followed by quarterbacks who went on to the NFL.

Since high school, Josh has worked every summer at Bob Johnson's prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp, a week-long conclave for the nation's top college prospects. In 2008, Josh mingled with three distinguished counselors: Mark Sanchez, who succeeded Josh at Mission and was then the quarterback at USC, Colt McCoy of Texas, and Matthew Stafford of Georgia. Josh came equipped with a supply of his bracelets—which were being produced for the Rodarmels by a small clothing manufacturer in Santa Ana—and gave his pitch to the quarterbacks. They were a hit.

That fall, Sanchez and McCoy each appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing the bracelets. As the touchdown passes piled up every Saturday, Power Balance received free exposure on national television. Meanwhile, the athletes became pitchmen to their own teammates. Nic Harris, an early adopter as a linebacker at Oklahoma, described the spread of Power Balance in the Sooners locker room.

"People are watching me, and then it's like a domino effect," says Harris, who now plays in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers and is an official endorser of the bracelets. "People see me and they want to get it—they're like, 'What is it? What is it?' And then you go through the process of explaining it." One of Harris's curious teammates in 2008 was Sam Bradford, who wore Power Balance that season and went on to win the Heisman Trophy.

Before long, the college quarterbacks went pro and shared their wares with new teammates in new locker rooms. Meanwhile, Troy continued to make inroads in the surfing scene. And NBA players, the most conspicuously accessorized athletes in sports, developed a particular affinity for the bracelets. During the 2008–09 season, Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom tried one at the suggestion of his trainer. In an e-mail, Odom—another paid endorser—says he noticed an immediate benefit. "I just started feeling better and more efficient when I had it on," he writes. "I feel like I am more balanced when I'm going up for a rebound, boxing out. I also have been hitting the ground less ever since."

And the bracelets went viral. Odom's Lakers teammates, including Kobe Bryant, started wearing them. NBA stars like O'Neal and Blake Griffin swear by them (O'Neal as an endorser). In the last year and a half, Power Balance products have become a kind of sports Forrest Gump—always popping up at the most significant events, like on the wrist of Drew Brees during his Super Bowl MVP performance, or Bryant in the NBA finals.

Before long, the bracelets migrated from stadiums to the red carpet, turning up in US Weekly as often as Sports Illustrated. Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio have been spotted in Power Balance bands. So have several cast members of MTV's Jersey Shore and Odom's wife, reality-TV star Khloe Kardashian.

"The story of how David Beckham got it was a microcosm of our growth," Josh remembers. "When we first saw him wearing the product, it was just him in a photo. Then the next photo we saw of him, it was him and his friend. Then the next time it was him and his kids and their friends."

The meteoric rise of Power Balance has led to some rarefied moments for Josh.

"The coolest experience I've had to date was sitting in the top floor of [rapper] Jay-Z's conference room in his office, talking with him and his business manager Juan Perez," Josh told me. "Sitting there, overlooking Times Square, just talking to Jay-Z about Power Balance." Baseball star Alex Rodriguez had set up the meeting.