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"Basketball: A Love Story" book excerpt: First Loves

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In this exclusive excerpt from "Basketball: A Love Story," the icons who changed the game share the first moment the game changed them.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson (three-time NBA MVP): I fell in love with basketball watching games with my dad in the living room. I was 3 or 4 years old. Him cheering for the Philadelphia 76ers -- Wilt Chamberlain was his favorite player. I would go out and practice Wilt's ugly finger roll and try to be the Big Dipper, and ever since that moment, I just had to have a ball in my hand.

LeBron James (four-time NBA MVP): When I was 4, 5 years old, I started playing on a crate. We cut the bottom out, nailed it to the light pole, me and my friends. No backboard, so every shot had to go straight in, or you didn't make it. And I remember that joy -- playing on the street, cars interrupting our game, the ball going into the woods. Playing basketball, it did something to me.

Kobe Bryant (2008 NBA MVP): I have a basketball family -- my father played in the NBA, my uncle played in the NBA, my grandma played -- and so when I picked the ball up, I was instantly attracted, almost like I was born to play.

Kevin Durant (2014 NBA MVP): My mom took me to a rec center. I walked into the gym, and it was like the gates of heaven opened up.

Cheryl Miller (two-time NCAA champion): I just knew there was something bigger and greater out there for me through basketball. It wasn't until 1976. I remember seeing highlights of the women's Olympic team, and for the first time, I identified with other female basketball players.

Jerry West (14-time NBA All-Star): I've always felt that the greatest thing a person can have is an imagination. When I picked that ball up, I was the referee, the timekeeper. If I missed three times in a row, I'd find a way to put a second back on the clock. When I was a little boy, I could use my imagination to be the hero of every game.

Shaquille O'Neal (2000 NBA MVP): It was a movie called "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh." Dr. J, Julius Erving, [was] in the movie, but I didn't know he was a real person. So my father said, "Come on," and [we] jumped on the train to Madison Square Garden. I'm sitting there like, "That's the guy from the movie!" Then he goes baseline, throws it down, the crowd goes crazy. I look at my dad, I said, "That's what I want to be when I grow up."

Charles Barkley (1993 NBA MVP): I was able to make a great life at it, but the really cool thing about basketball is it kept me out of jail.

Adam Silver (NBA commissioner): I was in second grade, and I'll never forget: I shot the ball, and it went in. In terms of building character and confidence, [the] next time I ran up and down the court I was a different guy.

Rebecca Lobo (1999 WNBA All-Star): I'm in eighth grade, and I'm already 6-[foot]-2. You go to school dances, and no boy is asking the 6-[foot]-2 girl with the big perm hair to slow dance. But when I played basketball, I loved being tall. Basketball was the place where I felt good about myself.

Spencer Haywood (1970 ABA MVP): We didn't get a basketball for Christmas because my mom could not afford it. So she decided, "I'm going to make you boys a basketball," and we were like, "How are you going to make a basketball? A basketball's gotta bounce." So she made us a ball out of this croker sack, and we were allowed two bounces in our head to make the pass or make the shot. That's when I started to enjoy basketball.

Excerpt from "Basketball: A Love Story" by Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew and Dan Klores. Copyright © 2018 by My Three Sons Productions Inc. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of Penguin Random House.