Sports photographer chronicles 59 years of Final Fours

'[In] quiet, subtle moments ... you learn more about the depth of the game and the players'
Sports photographer chronicles 59 years of Final Fours

Through the lens of his camera Rich Clarkson has seen it all. He was there in 1955 when his alma mater, the University of Kansas won an NCAA basketball title. He was there during the dynasty years of UCLA and he will be there this year shooting courtside at the Final Four in North Texas.

“It is a string of 59 now, so this is my 59th Final Four this year, so I’ve got to hang on one more year,” Clarkson said.

One of the world best sports photographers, Clarkson began his career with a magazine that was in its infancy.

“I started trying to cultivate myself at Sports Illustrated and it worked,” Clarkson said.

During his career Clarkson took more than 50 of the cover photos for Sports Illustrated and he is the person the NCAA looks to for championship images.
“Today we are the official photographers for the NCAA, but Sports Illustrated gets the first look at the pictures,” Clarkson said.

His photographs capture moments that tell the stories of championships. In those photos you see a chronicle of history. There are photos of basketball greats Wilt Chamberlain, Bobby Knight and John Wooden.

“Often times the moment isn’t the great slam dunk, the great spectacular moment. There are so many great moments that are the quiet, subtle moments and those are the ones that I like to get the most because you learn more about the depth of the game and the players,” Clarkson said.

Shooting courtside for nearly six decades Clarkson’s images take you up close to the players and action. Occasionally he’s found himself a little too close to the action.

“A University of Kentucky player chasing down a ball that was going out of bounds crashed right into me and everyone says are you hurt? I said no and it wouldn’t matter because it made a hell of a picture,” Clarkson said.

He says looking back on the years he treasures the friendships he has developed with players and coaches. He counts former Indiana coach Bobby Knight as a friend.

“I mean one of my better friends is Bob Knight of all people and once you get to know him he’s very, very different than the image so many people have of him,” Clarkson said.

Through the years Rich Clarkson has captured photographs of some of the Final Fours greatest moments. The opportunity to witness history is not lost on him.
“Some people will say, oh you were there when such and such happened and yeah, it seemed like a big deal at the time and now history makes it an even bigger deal,” Clarkson said.