There is no gray area when it comes to fans' relationships with athletes. It's either all love or no warm feelings whatsoever.
When it came to Joe Thornton and Sharks fans, it was nonstop love for the franchise icon. And he felt the same way about those who donned the teal and shook SAP Center.
"Oh man, I was there for 15 years," Thornton said Sunday to reporters in a video conference call. "They brought me in with open arms. They loved me, I loved them right back. The people were so kind to me, the Shark Tank was one of the best buildings to play in. We've had a lot of great memories there.
"I loved them all, they treated me with great respect. I hope I did them proud when I played."
There's no doubt Thornton made Sharks fans proud for the past 15 seasons. He might have made them sad when he decided to sign a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency, but the love always will be there for both sides. He left his mark on San Jose, and the fans earned a special place in Thornton's heart.
He even plans to move back to the Bay Area after retirement.
Thornton is the Sharks' all-time leader in assists (804) and trails just Patrick Marleau as San Jose's career leader in games played (1,104) and points (1,055). But his time as a Shark was about much more than his stardom on the ice.
"The friendships I accumulated there over the years, they'll be friendships forever. They're long-lasting friendships," Thornton said. "[General manager Doug Wilson] really ... with the staff that he's created with the equipment guys, the medical side -- just some really, really strong bonds I made. They truly made it a place to come and work every day and made it enjoyable for myself.
"It's a special place to play hockey, that's for sure."