"With the first pick in the 1990-91 National Basketball Association draft, the Toronto Molsons select 7-foot-2 inch forward Boris Icemonovich of the Soviet Union."

And, with those words, NBA Commissioner David Stern saw a longtime dream realized.

Stern, in the second year of a lifetime pact he signed shortly after getting the NBA Players Association to agree to a 60-game season, now could focus his attention on the next big project for his administration -- a limited European season with teams completely stocked with NBA players, with franchises in France, West Germany and Italy, among other venues.

"But that's still a couple of years away," Stern thought to himself as Icemonovich, who averaged 29.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per game for the Soviet Union's national team, strode proudly to the podium.

Judging from the comments and reactions of league personnel during last month's NBA meetings in San Francisco, the above scenario isn't as farfetched as it might seem.

With the announcement that formal applications for expansion franchises now are being accepted, Toronto would seem to have a better than average chance to become the first NBA team outside the continental United States.

There's also no disputing the influence foreign players are beginning to have on the sport. During the recent NBA draft, the Dallas Mavericks selected three foreign-born players in the first round. In addition, athletes were selected from Bulgaria, Spain and, of course, Sudan, the homeland of the Washington Bullets' 7-foot-6 Manute Bol.

The NBA clearly is entering a bullish period. Television ratings and revenues reached an all-time high during the 1984-85 season, as did the per-game and total attendance at the NBA's 23 arenas.

Watching in the almost antiseptic atmosphere of Dallas' Reunion Arena or the smoky funk of Chicago Stadium, NBA fans saw, for the most part, excellent basketball. The linchpin upon which all the league's expectations for the future are based is the spectacular physical ability of such athletes as James Worthy, Ralph Sampson and Michael Jordan, and newcomers like Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale.

According to Stern, the evolution of the prototype NBA player already has occurred.

"He's Magic Johnson and Ralph Sampson, players that can do absolutely anything with a basketball, and he's getting even bigger," Stern said. "The college player that everyone seems to be hot on now is Danny Manning, who's 6-10 and can play point guard."

Manning, a sophomore at Kansas, indeed is blessed with multiple skills, ball-handling particularly. But whether the whippetlike collegian is about to become the norm rather than the exception depends on whom you talk to.

Frank Layden, coach of the Utah Jazz, usually is a boisterous sort but his voice turns serious when he talks about where the game is headed.

"Remember how it used to be in football?" he said. "At first, you had to have a big fullback to crash through the line of scrimmage. Then everybody moved to agility. I think the NBA is moving in the opposite direction. Our game is moving completely into power. We're getting away from athletes and into bigger, stronger guys without multiple skills.

"There was a time when players like Jerry West and Oscar Robertson were also on the all-defensive team. Now, guys can score but they can't shoot from the outside. Or they can shoot but they can't pass."

Layden concedes that his feelings are based upon the league's penchant for playing follow the leader, the idea that what works for one team should work for all.

In this year's NBA draft, for example, the byword was height. Of the 24 players selected in the first round, eight were 6-10 or taller. Many of those picks were part of an attempt to imitate the Boston Celtics' successful strategy of playing behemoths, notably 7-foot Robert Parish and 6-11 Kevin McHale, together along the front line.

Layden is not apart from that trend. Last season, Utah frequently started 6-11 Thurl Bailey or 7-foot Rich Kelley alongside 7-3 center Mark Eaton. But he said such a strategy "limits a coach's mobility. There are teams that start two 7-footers and those guys aren't all Sampsons.

"I think if there was a series between this season's first-round selections and the second round, the second would win because they have the better athletes. They would just be coming down the floor and playing basketball."

That flexibility was embodied in the new NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that Cleveland Coach George Karl said is "already two years ahead of everyone else offensively."

"I think that defense is a five-on-five situation and is very good right now," Karl said. "It will only get better, so the team that can get easy baskets, through quickness, trapping on defense, shot blockers, whatever, will be ahead of everyone else.

"Chances are, you'll see offenses set up with just one guard, in something like a 2-1-2 offensive set, with players like Larry Bird and James Worthy initiating the sets.

"There are going to be rule changes, too. I think the lane will become bigger and that the three-point line will come in closer. Even if you moved it in one step, all those jumpers that were worth two points would now be worth three and the defense would have to scramble more to cover them. That would open things up more and lead to those easier baskets."

Lakers Coach Pat Riley said that until the league as a whole moves toward his team's point of view, Los Angeles will continue to stay ahead of the offensive game.

"Our entire philosophy is predicated toward the running game," he said. "We won't change now or five years from now unless all the other 23 teams did and I know that they won't. There'll always be someone more desirous of slowing things down."

In that sense, Riley said that five years hence, "the game will really look the same. There will be a steady wave of improvement, maybe 20 percent or so each season, but nothing really different will happen until they change the scheduling format and make it shorter."

When and if that happens, Riley said the game would improve markedly, mainly because players would be capable of giving inspired performances on a more consistent basis.

That would surely make CBS or whichever network acquires the next NBA television contract happy.

According to Sandy Grossman, CBS' lead director for its NBA telecasts, the league and its television future won't change much in terms of production. Better lighting, audio equipment and technical products like SkyCam cameras and slow-motion machines will only enhance the present product. "We're like the league in the sense that we don't feel it's necessary to make changes just for change's sake," he said.

Five years from now, though, NBA officials hope the league has a much larger television audience, one befitting an engrossing, continuing prime-time drama. That's part of the fantasy that's locked away in Stern's mind. And given the influx of foreign players and potential worldwide interest in the NBA, Stern says he is "determined to put some sort of structure on it."

The People's Republic of China is sending a delegation from its basketball federation to the United States this summer to visit and receive training from NBA representatives. Sometime next year, a similar group from the Soviet Union will be received. That leads Stern to think that international interest in NBA basketball could develop to the point where the already nomadic existence of its athletes would become global.

"I only think about it right now, but it's conceivable that in November and December there would be a separate season played, with all the teams being based in Europe," Stern said. "After that we would have our U.S. season. Tell the people here that your season is from January until June, 60 or so games with the playoffs and championship remaining the same." And in the interim?

"There would be summer play, somewhere," said Stern. "They could be reruns of sorts."

Of course.