My Secret Life

For Rich Baumer there's the company he's built -- VentureDirect Worldwide, his $100-million direct-marketing business -- and there's basketball. Don't try to take the basketball away.

At 45 -- an age when even the most addicted roundballers are considering the merits of tennis -- Baumer still plays league basketball twice a week. He also attends most New York Knicks home games (VentureDirect is headquartered in Manhattan), coaches youth-league teams that include his son and one of his daughters, and is involved in fund-raising for an organization that helps former NBA players in need. At one point he liked a basketball fantasy camp so much that he tried to buy it. The man has a serious basketball jones.

"It's the greatest release in the world," Baumer says, insisting that no other workout arena or field of sporting play can match the basketball court as a place where "you just bang and get out the stress." Plus there's the ancillary benefit of (literally) running into all those other "fiercely competitive people who can channel that in a positive way and in a team environment." Some of those people now work for VentureDirect, which Baumer founded in 1983. Baumer went entrepreneurial after spending four years at Young & Rubicam Inc., the well-known ad-and-marketing shop where he felt "comfortable enough" but didn't believe he was "competing in the workplace at the highest level I could."

How hard is it to juggle company building, fatherhood, and his basketball obsession? Not very, Baumer says -- except during the winter, when both the Knicks and his kids' teams are in season. In a pinch he gives away his Knicks tickets to coworkers or clients. And he admits he doesn't always make it to his children's games until the last second before the games begin. He once scolded a referee for starting play one minute early. "I wanted to do warm-ups and give my Knute Rockne speech. But the ref had already started the game. I called time-out and blew my stack."

OK, so Baumer's a little competitive. The question is, Can he play?

Sure, he says. Back in the day, he could even dunk. Nowadays his six-foot-three frame carries 195 pounds instead of its former 165, but he's still got game, he says. It's just that he plays it much closer to the ground.

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