Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Willie Mays' passing: 'I wanted to be Willie-Mays great' in NBA career

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Willie Mays are two of the greatest players to have played their respective sports.

And whether he knew it or not, the late "Say Hey Kid" was a driving inspiration in Abdul-Jabbar becoming the six-time NBA Champion and NBA Most Valuable Player that he ended up being.

On Tuesday, Mays died at the age of 93 after a short illness, as announced by the San Francisco Giants on behalf of Mays' family. Within a day of Mays' death, Abdul-Jabbar went to X (formerly Twitter) to pay his respect to one of baseball's legends, and his favorite baseball player.

REQUIRED READING: Willie Mays' memory will live forever, starting with Rickwood Field tribute

"When I was a kid, baseball was my first love and Willie Mays was the reason for that. He made impossible catches and plays that made me believe he could walk on water if he really tried. The true testament to his greatness for me as a kid was that I deeply admired him even though I was a Dodgers fan and he played for the rival Giants. To me, Willie was a one-man game," Abdul-Jabbar said on X. "Later, when I played basketball, I would recall amazing plays that he made and that inspired me to push myself to be more like him. I didn't just want to be great, I wanted to be Willie-Mays great!"

"... I am at a point in my life where I want to spend less time mourning the deaths of my friends and heroes and more time celebrating their lives. As one of the first Black professional baseball players, Willie Mays endured unimaginable hardships. Because of him, I was able to pursue my own sports career and live a better life. Every Black athlete owns him a debt of gratitude. We walk an easier path because he cleared it for us. Even in passing, Willie has left me with so many wonderful and joyous memories that I can't help but smile and be grateful."

REQUIRED READING: Birmingham, former MLB players heartbroken over death of native son Willie Mays

Famously known for his over-the-head basket catch in the 1954 World Series with the then-New York Giants, Mays is widely considered one of the best all-around players to have played the sport because of his five-tool skill set. Mays was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1979 and finished his career as a two-time National League MVP with 3,828 career hits and 660 career home runs.

MLB will honor Mays — who helped the Birmingham Barons to a 1948 Negro American League title as a 17-year-old — along with the entire Negro League Thursday during the "MLB at Rickwood Field: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues" game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pays tribute to Willie Mays in touching statement