Clarkson continuously honored on Final Four lead-up

April 2, 2015

(Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

(Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

If you haven’t heard the story yet, you may be living underneath a rock. The buildup of March Madness will reach its apex this weekend as the Final Four teams compete for the NCAA Championship title that will be played on Monday. And the man who will be sitting on the floorboards, just as he has for 59 other Final Fours, will be photographing the game for his final team.

You heard it right! Rich Clarkson has photographed more NCAA Final Fours than anyone in history as he will leave his mark at an impressive 60 years. Over the years, he has grown the coverage that formed from Sports Illustrated into his own company, Clarkson Creative. Clarkson Creative does business as NCAA Photos and has been covering all of the collegiate championships since Fall of 1994.

To give you more insight into his story, I will leave that to the professionals. The stories below are written by those that are inspired by his story of photojournalism and the legacy he has left for the entire industry that we have today. Once you meet the legendary Rich Clarkson, he can’t help but share with you some amazing stories from all his years in the biz — these following stories captured just a few…

His work will continue outside of the NCAA Final Four with his founding company, Clarkson Creative, that run and manage clients with a variety of inventive work.

NCAA Feature: Photo Finish

March 11, 2015

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Rich Clarkson buries his hands in one of those boxes, sifting through the hundreds of photographs inside, searching for memories. He could reach into any one of these boxes and pull out a spellbinding shot: politicians, auto accidents, carnage from a tornado.
He draws out a photo of Stan Musial, close to retirement, hunched over and alone on the St. Louis Cardinals bench.

Next, he draws out a sequence of photos from the 1972 Munich Olympics: A Russian basketball player holding his arms up triumphantly, followed by three American players. One looks like his stomach is trying to wring out its contents. Another is angry. The last looks to be in deep shock. The U.S. had just lost the Olympic gold-medal game, in controversial style, to the Russians.

They’re the types of images for which Clarkson is best remembered – moments that reflect a deeper humanity that influenced the way people look at sports. Clarkson focused not just on the action, but also on the defining moments that came before the big games and after the big shots. He developed a signature low-angle style shot from a camera placed just off the baseline and pioneered the mounting of cameras behind backboards and above locker rooms to capture unique perspectives.

College sports was his preferred canvas for capturing those innovative illustrations of significant moments. It took him to dozens of Final Fours, where he captured some of the most memorable and reproduced images from the tournament: University of Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen giving his Jayhawks a pep talk at halftime; UCLA center Lew Alcindor pulling down a rebound over the University of Houston’s Elvin Hayes; North Carolina State University coach Jim Valvano, dazed from a historic upset of Houston, being hoisted onto the shoulders of his players and fans.

Read more of the visually stunning article at NCAA Champion Magazine.

Clarkson named Basketball Hall of Fame recipient

February 13, 2015

We want to honor our founder, Rich Clarkson, who was named the next recipient of the Basketball Hame of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award, alongside Woody Durham.

The prestigious award is presented to members of the print and electronic media whose longtime efforts have made a significant contribution to the game of basketball.

Congrats Rich and we wish him a great journey into his 60th Final Four!


History of the Final Four: White vs. Black

March 18, 2013

As the 75th anniversary of the NCAA Final Four approaches, we take a look back into history through the eyes of long-time Final Four photographer, Rich Clarkson.

A turning point for the evolution of the sport of basketball was the Civil Rights Movement. Clarkson documented an All-White team losing to an All-Black starting lineup for the first time — the story was later told through the motion picture ‘Glory Road’.

Watch the video below to hear his story:

March Madness game changed history

March 15, 2013

It’s called the “Game of Change” and for good reason.

The 1963 game with Mississippi State vs. Loyola Chicago is one of the most memorable sporting events in the civil rights movement. It served as a vehicle to challenge racial segregation in athletics helping to forever change college basketball and advance civil rights in this country.

Mississippi State’s team had to overcome unwritten laws that prohibited them from playing integrated teams. The team snuck out of town in darkness before the Governor could order them to not leave.

The Loyola Chicago team, which featured four African-American starters, eventually went on the win the National Championship.

Rich Clarkson was there to document and photograph it all — his pictures are showcased in the video along with some players from that game.

Check it out here on Yahoo Sports!

Behind the Lens with Rich Clarkson

December 17, 2012

Watch as photographer Rich Clarkson shares his favorite photographs and stories from KU athletics, NCAA Final Fours, Sports Illustrated, Topeka Capital Journal, and more in a conversation with broadcaster Gary Bender.

CBS News ‘This Morning’ profiled Rich Clarkson for 57th Final Four

April 4, 2012

Since 1952, Rich Clarkson has been a staple of the NCAA Final Four Tournament documenting history. From the emergence of the black athlete to the different style of the game, Rich has been travelled the road to the Final Four 57 times.

With that, Charlie Rose and CBS News This Morning gave him some airtime this year on the Monday morning of the Championship game.

Take a look below on the insider’s look into the mind of the ‘Legendary Final Four photog’ Rich Clarkson.

The Kansas City star newspaper also profiled Rich in their story on Kansas’ Final Four win. Take a look here.

The 2011 Men’s Final Four in Photographs

April 21, 2011

As a collective group of 5 photographers covering the 2011 Men’s Final Four in Houston,TX we have nearly every angle and scenario planned out. In the end it’s often exciting to see what each individual on the team walked away with in images. No perspective goes undocumented.


©Joshua Duplechian/NCAA Photos

©Ryan Mckee/NCAA Photos

©Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos

©Joshua Duplechian/NCAA Photos

©Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos

©Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos

©Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos

©Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos

©Joshua Duplechian/NCAA Photos

©Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos

©Joshua Duplechian/NCAA Photos

Experiences with John Wooden

June 4, 2010

The first year I was assigned by Sports Illustrated to cover the NCAA Final Four also resulted in my first ever cover for the magazine. And it was John Wooden’s first national championship at UCLA.

Though I certainly never thought at the time it would be the start of a friendship with the coach, much less he would go on to win ten national championships with the Bruins, it was one of the more notable — and enjoyable points in my career. And as the years passed, Coach and I crossed paths many times and we had many good visits, the most recent of which was just a couple of years ago. In recent years, he continued to live in the modest house he and his beloved wife, Nell, occupied all the years he coached. And had the same telephone number. You could call him and he would answer the phone — although for much of the time in recent years, he would listen to the answering machine, first to see who was calling and then would answer. If it was someone he knew, or on many occasions I think, he just answered anyway. As always, John Wooden was the most considerate midwesterner whose Indiana roots permeated his life.

©Rich Clarkson

Through those years in the 60s and 70s when he presided over the dominate basketball team in the nation, he was still just as down to earth as he was when coaching a high school team in his hometown of Martinsville, Indiana.
As a photographer, photographing UCLA games for Sports Illustrated all of those years, you could go almost anywhere — although few photographers in those years went beyond action pictures from the games. Many times, I seated myself on the floor almost in front of Coach during the games and it was fine with him. Today, it would be unheard of to be sitting right in front of a head coach in a national championship game.

But sitting there, it was a different picture from those taken from afar — of this almost cherubic figure, the game program rolled up in his left hand. As I sat there I could hear what he was saying and how he was working the officials with as much intensity as a Bob Knight. Only with not a single curse word. Coach was into every element of the game every minute of the game, and he missed nothing. And added much to what the UCLA players were doing on the court.

And the minute the game ended, it was time for the ultimate courtesy once again. Not that he was discourteous to the refs — he was there every moment.

Many have asked me if h would have been a great coach without the Lew Alcindors and Bill Waltons, much the result of recruiting by his assistants and then UCLA-athletic director J. D. Morgan. ( who buried all the bodies) I would tell them, look at the first two national championships, team with good players but no superstars — and those had to be totally a John Wooden result. What was unique in the era of superstars coming to UCLA was Coach never deviated from his grassroots ways and philosophy. They still had to learn just how to pull on their socks . . .

This was the charm of Coach for in all those years and throughout his golden years of retirement, he was always teaching in just his way. The Sinatra-like “My Way” was the way of Coach.

Which brings me to how people close to him have addressed him all these years. As Coach. (Just as Hank Iba was ALWAYS referred to as “Mr. Iba”) Which was the way he wanted for the term coach to Wooden was one of implied respect and also implied leadership. He passed out reproductions of his Pyramid of Success (I have a signed copy) for years and the accompanying talk was always about values and how to embrace them. In these more skeptical times, I watched him on many speaking occasions take the audience of a different era into his philosophies in such ways as to always win them over.

The first and only book he really wrote was with Jack Tobin, the longtime Los Angeles publicist at the Sports Arena and the Sports Illustrated correspondent in Los Angeles as well. Jack was of a time when many publicity agents were gregarious and enjoyable individuals of great talent and the book by Coach with Tobin, a good partnership, was entitled, “They Call Me Coach.” Jack called me for the picture Wooden wanted for the cover and it had always been one of my favorite pictures though I didn’t realize the significance until later.

©Rich Clarkson

It was towards the end of the 1971 championship game when the outcome was secure and Coach begin taking the players out one at a time for the crowd in Houston’s Astrodome to acknowledge each individually. When Sidney Wickes left the game, he want over to Coach and in a very long moment (I think I have something like 14 frames of it) to thank him. “Coach, you’re something else,” was part of that moment. It made a good picture, but Sports Illustrated never used it at the time.

The back story was that Wickes had a tumultuous and difficult time with Coach, often complaining mostly about not enough playing time. But many other things as well. That game in Houston was his last for UCLA.

It was when the book was being done, that Tobin told me, it was Wooden’s favorite picture. Later — and many times over the years — Coach told me it was his favorite picture of his entire career. And every time we would see each other, he would mention it. And I have a beautifully autographed copy of it in my office today.

Coach never lost his commitment, his clear thought and dedication to principals through all of his 99 years. And his mind was every bit as sharp for all of them, even as the times and and the mores changed. The game and life never passed him by. But the game changed.

On the occasion of his receiving the NCAA’s President’s Gerald R. Ford award during the annual convention in 2006 which happened to be the 100th anniversary of the association. There was a press conference the afternoon of the banquet for Wooden and as it wound down, the last question was, “As the game has changed, is there anything you don’t like.”

He thought for a moment before saying, “Yes, these uniforms today. I don’t like those pantaloons . . .”

And I thought, how many people in this room know what pantaloons are.

-Rich Clarkson