An El Segundo technology company has signed a licensing deal that allows it to sell NBA-branded jerseys for $1 each. Trick is they're virtual jerseys for online avatars.

Fuhu Inc. runs the Fuhu.com Web site that lets users create virtual "identity" cards with an image or avatar on the front and information about the user on the back. The card can then be placed on a profile at a social network like MySpace or Facebook.

Fuhu's National Basketball Association deal allows social networkers to "wear" NBA jerseys and apparel on their identity cards. It launched the initiative at the beginning of this year's basketball playoffs.

"The NBA is using our technology to promote its players and the playoffs," said Jim Mitchell, Fuhu chief executive.

Fuhu was founded last year by Robb Fujioka and John Hui hence the company name. Startup funding came from international investors, including a top computer manufacturer. It currently has 30 employees.

The site has 17,000 users who have created virtual cards with their images. Many of those joined over the past week, thanks to the NBA deal.

In addition to the NBA contract, Fuhu has promoted its product with several major recording artists. Britney Spears worked with the company to produce a card that she linked to her MySpace page. The back of the card gives fans information on her current tour. Rapper Lil' Kim also worked with the company to create a virtual image. She liked the result so much she featured the card in her latest music video, which debuted last week.

Most content and clothing for avatars is free. However, Fuhu expects to make money off its product by allowing users to customize images with name-brand items, such as the NBA jerseys, for a small fee. In addition to the jerseys, the company has partnered with Oakley Inc. so users can add sunglasses to their virtual images.

The deal with the NBA is Fuhu's first major sports contract in the United States. The company has already formed a similar partnership with Italian soccer club Intermilan. It expects to continue building virtual identity cards for athletes and is in talks with the International Olympic Committee to build avatars for athletes competing in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

Speed Zone

When Townsend Bell suits up at this year's Indianapolis 500, he will be fully branded by nutritional supplement manufacturer and distributor Herbalife Ltd. His fire suit, helmet and the car's paint job will be covered in Herbalife green.

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