BACK IN 1934, a 12-year-old boy named Jim McGregor was cut from his local playground basketball team. Undaunted, he persuaded the manager of the corner drugstore to give him a basketball and a dozen T-shirts. He recruited some tall kids and finagled some games against league teams.
Soon, leading his own team in minutes played, McGregor made Broadway Drug the scourge of Portland area youth basketball.
Forty-five years later, McGregor, who had to struggle to get a toehold in basketball on his own turf, has gained a reputation over the past 30 years as a dominant basketball personality in the international game.
McGregor began to make his global mark on the game in the 1950s when he became coach of the Italian national team.
In the mid-'60s he started touring American all-star teams through Europe. In l966, one of his players, Stan McKenzie, left the tour to play for a top Itaian team.
McKenzie received a $20,000 contract with Ignis Varese, the Italian champions, and McGregor was given an $8,000 "finder's fee." Suddenly the European basketball market was open to American players, and McGregor had discovered a new business.
McGregor, who now is back coaching an Italian team, has placed some 400 players with European teams since McKenzie's signing. Most of the 600 Americans now playing in Europe got their jobs through agents like McGregor.
For McGregor, the tour consisted of 10 to 15 players with sneakers and Eurail passes.
He has taken teams to every corner of the globe - his passport is a collector's item, bearing the stamps of all but a handful of the world's nations.
The tour was so popular in the early years that it often escalated into a year-round adventure.
"For years the tour was my home," said McGregor. "We went everywhere in those days. The guys just wanted to see the world and play some ball."
Before the emergence of the American Basketball Association, McGregor had a tremendous talent pool from which to draw, and his squads established quite an international reputation and were heavily scouted by foreign teams looking for players.
"I was a household name everywhere but in my own house," said McGregor. "It got to be a problem at home, though, as my wives got in the habit of using up their eligibility just like my players. I'd recruit them and take care of them, then they'd leave after four years."
McGregor's crew used to travel by bus ("I don't think we ever drove past a single female hitchhiker") but now goes by train, with McGregor traveling first class and everybody else second.
To play a game against McGregor's all-stars, European teams would provide hotel accommodations and three meals for the team, and a flat fee for McGregor. He scheduled a game anywhere to avoid an off day.
With games every night, he operated in an economic framework that warmed his Scottish heart. He insists he is a coach and not an agent, but he admits that the tour, his "placement service," had its rewards.
"I dealt in a product I acquired for nothing, didn't have to warehouse, got paid to advertise and sold for pure profit," he said. The profit was the 10 percent paid by each team that signed a player off his tour.
McGregor's reputation as a raconteur is rivaled by his reputation as a tightwad. He paid his touring players nothing, but got a guarantee to cover all expenses. Opposing teams took care of these, except on the rare off day, when he had to dip into his own pocket, peeling off bills for meal money that were often tear-stained by the time they reached the player's hand.
"I've never understood," he once said, "Why these guys expect to eat when they don't play."
After deciding in 1946 to coach rather than play - "I was always "hey you" on the teams I played for" (lastly Southern Cal.) - McGregor went on to coach one high school team, two college squads (Whitworth and New Mexico State), two first division Italianclubs, and the national team of eight other counntries.
He was successful everywhere he coached, save New Mexico State, where he learned a harsh lesson in schedule upgrading. But he did not endear himself to the supervisory bodies at any of the American institutions he worked for. He always has favored the greatest amount of basketball for the greatest number, and his pursuit of this philosophy sometimes led him to break the rules, particularly those dealing with limits on practice time and player eligibilty.
"The greatest thing about coaching in Europe," he said, "is that there are no grades, no alumni, no recruiting, no rules to break. You just have to win."
The national teams of Italy, Greece, Peru, Turkey, Austria, Sweden, Morocco and Central Africa all took hugh steps forward under McGregor's direction, implementing his run-and-gun philosophy.
But on McGregor's touring teams there was another style. With European teams needing big men, a typical McGregor roster included one guard and nine guys 6-foot-8 and up. This is known as economic basketball.
"We needed one guard to get the ball up court - the guard did not shoot," said McGregor. "The ball then went in to the center, our designated shooter. He stayed in the post until he got a job (with a European team), then we moved the forward into the middle and he became the shooter. Then we sold him, and so on. Economic basketball."
This season McGregor gave up touring for a more static job - coaching Pagnossini Gorizia, an Italian first division team. He commands a $40,000 salary with the club, the average wage of American players there.
McGregor is next looking forward to being "one of the handful of coaches who make it into retirement," and a life of golfing and swimming. He scoffs at the idea of becoming bored.
"Whenever I hear anyone complain about retirement," he said, "I know he doesn't play golf." CAPTION: Picture, Jim McGregor discusses strategy with his players on tour. Fotobureau No. 1 Stitch - For The Washington Post