Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Leonard Greene is a reporter and columnist for the New York Daily News.

Jackie Robinson was a legend I read about in history books.

Hank Aaron was a man I actually saw play. So when news of his death flashed across my smartphone screen Friday, I had an emotional reaction I hadn’t really expected.

He wasn’t my favorite baseball player. He didn’t play on my favorite team. In fact, when he was in the batter’s box staring down Tom Seaver, I rooted for the other guy.

But I loved Hank Aaron. The same way I loved Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Colin Kaepernick and any righteous Black athlete who knows that freedom fighting is a thousand times more important than hitting a home run or doing a celebration dance in the end zone.

And Hank Aaron was a fighter.

Henry Louis Aaron, “Hammerin’ Hank” to anybody who ever tuned into a ballgame, was best known for a long-ball record that stood for a generation.

But the home run crown — one of the most prestigious in all of sports — came at an excruciating price for the Atlanta Braves star: constant taunts and serious death threats from sick racists who, in 1974, could not stand the thought of a Black man breaking Babe Ruth’s hallowed record.

“In 1972 when people finally realized I was climbing up Ruth’s back, the ‘Dear N——r’ letters started showing up with alarming regularity,” Aaron wrote in his 1991 memoir, “I Had a Hammer.”

“They told me no n——-r had any right to go where I was going. There’s no way to measure the effect those letters had on me, but I like to think every one of them added another home run to my total.”

Aaron, a Hall of Famer, had talked endlessly about the stress of the record chase on him and his family. But I was most moved by remarks he once made about his earliest days in baseball.

Aaron had grown up in poverty in Mobile, Alabama, in a home without electricity or indoor bathrooms. As boys, he and his younger brother, Tommie, who also became a major leaguer, used broom handles as bats and bottle caps as balls.

When he was 14, a year after Robinson broke baseball’s color line, Robinson visited Mobile, and Aaron skipped school to meet his hero. Robinson advised the boy to focus on his education and pursue baseball later.

Aaron didn’t listen. When he was 17, he signed with a team in the Negro Leagues, the Indianapolis Clowns. He was with the team on a road trip in Washington, D.C., when he got one of his first lessons in the ugliness of racism in a league where only the ball was white.

“We had breakfast while we were waiting for the rain to stop, and I can still envision sitting with the Clowns in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we finished eating,” Aaron once said.

“What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”

When his 23-year playing career was over, Aaron became a front office executive, a perch he used to fight for equal rights as strongly as he had fought for an extra base on the field.

As a boy growing up in Brooklyn, there were two baseball caps that I wore. A Mets cap, and one for the Indianapolis Clowns.

I still wear a Mets cap. I wish I had my Clowns cap now.