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NBA players are among the most marketable athletes on earth, and have long cashed in via individual endorsement deals. But for years, the leaguenot its starshad control over group licensing deals that governed huge product categories like jerseys, trading cards and video games.

That changed last summer when a new collective bargaining agreement gave the players union more power to craft licensing deals. The upshot is that the union can now strike brand deals for off-court activities with marketers that are not official NBA sponsors. So even though PepsiCo is the NBA's official sponsor, Coke could hypothetically strike a deal with a group of players, as long as the marketer does not use logos controlled by the league.

Now the union is signaling it wants to more aggressively leverage its newfound freedom by bolstering its marketing arm, known as Think450 in reference to the league's full component of 450 players. On Thursday, Think450 announced its first board of directors, including heavy hitters from the entertainment, banking and education industries.

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