From Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail:
“I was no different than any 10-year-old,” Gretzky said. “I wrote letters to NHL players. I wrote to Bobby and to Gordie and they both sent me back signed pictures that I still have today. For me, as a child growing up and idolizing these guys and then getting an opportunity to meet them and develop a relationship over the years has been special and unique. If it wasn’t for Gordie and for Bobby Hull jumping to the WHA in 1972, I might not be standing here today. They definitely laid a path for guys like Wayne Gretzky to become professional athletes. Not only were they great players, but wonderful people too.
Here's the full story. Well worth the read.