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Credit: Amanda Marsalis

Stephen and Ayesha Curry met when they were teenagers at their church youth group in Charlotte, N.C., but it wasn’t love at first sight for the basketball star and the budding culinary guru.

“We were just kids,” Ayesha tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “He was the cute boy at church that all of the girls were obsessed with, so I made a generalization that maybe he wasn’t for me.”

“I don’t remember the exact first day I saw her,” Steph adds, joking, “There was no wind blowing in her face with a backlight.”

Years later, when she was acting and modeling in Los Angeles and he was playing college basketball for Davidson, the pair reconnected when he was in town for the ESPYs. “I didn’t know what the ESPYs were,” Ayesha laughs, claiming she wasn’t into sports before meeting Steph. “My parents found this paper from my high school theater class where you had to write down what you wanted in a significant other,” she recalls. “At the bottom, it said, ‘No athletes, because they’re arrogant.'”

Having just come off of leading his team to the Elite 8 in the 2008 March Madness tournament, Steph was already starting to make a name for himself in the sports world — a fact that was lost on Ayesha. “She really didn’t know what I did at the time,” he says. “It was pretty refreshing.”

After turning him down at first, Ayesha finally agreed to go out with him after he reached out on Facebook. She picked him up in her ’95 Astro van and they went to Hollywood Boulevard — an admittedly “cheesy” first date where they drank chai tea lattes, took pictures with Marilyn Monroe impersonators, and Steph spent all the money in his pocket to impress her by buying a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Ayesha quickly realized preconceived notions about him were wrong. “He was so funny and silly,” she says, “the absolute opposite of what I thought he was going to be.”

Not long after, Ayesha felt some rejection of her own. “I told him I loved him first and he said, ‘I feel like I love you too, but I don’t want to say it unless I’m sure because I just want to be sure that when I say it, I really mean it,'” she says. “I had to get in my car and drive home. I was crying.”

A few months later, while they were with both of their families over Christmas, he finally said it back. “We were watching a movie and he turned to my ear and he said, ‘I love you.’,” she recalls. “Mind you, my parents were sitting right there. His parents were sitting right there. Our siblings are sitting right there. I was trying to sit and watch the movie, but I was freaking out. It was so special because I knew he meant it.”

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The pair got married three years later in 2011, and have since welcomed two daughters, Riley, 3, and Ryan, 1. As he has established himself as one of the top basketball players in the country, she’s been making a name for herself on the culinary scene with an upcoming cookbook, a Cooking Channel show, and a pop-up restaurant in their hometown of San Francisco.

WATCH: Riley Curry Models for Freshly Picked

The strong bond they’ve maintained over the years is evident, and it’s often caused fans to put their family life on a pedestal — something they don’t necessarily advocate. “I don’t like people looking at someone else’s image,” Steph says. “We want to represent the right things because that’s who we are, but we don’t like when people say ‘#RelationshipGoals’ and stuff. I want people to understand they have to live their own lives the way they want to and not just do what we do.”

For Ayesha, what matters most is being a positive role model for her children. “What I want to represent for my daughters is that you can always stay true to yourself and still be successful,” she says. “You can have your cake and eat it too and follow your passions, have a family and be happy.”

For more exclusive details from our story with Stephen and Ayesha Curry, including three recipes from her upcoming cookbook The Seasoned Life, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.