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After 60 years, a photographer's "final" Final Four

Official NCAA photographer Rich Clarkson has photographed the Final Four for 60 years straight
One NCAA photographer's final, Final Four 04:54

One man has been a picture of perfection at this climatic weekend in college basketball since the 1950s.

As an official photographer for the NCAA, Rich Clarkson will have a courtside seat in Indianapolis this weekend, photographing the Final Four tournament one last time. He's done it for 60 years straight.

CBS News' David Begnaud reports why Clarkson is ready to throw in the towel.

"You know, where I sit cross-legged in the corner of the court and I'm sitting there and it becomes halftime and it becomes the end of the game, it gets more and more difficult just to stand up," Clarkson said.

As evident by the press credentials in his Denver home, at 82, he's covered more major sporting events than he can remember.

He has photographed everything from the Rose Bowl to the World Series in 1980, four Super Bowls and six Olympics. But for Clarkson, basketball has more of a draw.

"There are no helmets, there are no shoulder pads, you see everyone all the time," Clarkson said. "The college game I think is more charming."

In 1966, he documented Texas Western, with the first all-black starting lineup in an NCAA final, upset the all-white number-one-ranked Kentucky.

His low-angle shot of Wilt Chamberlain is his favorite photo he has ever taken.

"It would be my favorite for one reason," Clarkson said. "It was the first picture I sold to Sports Illustrated."

For Clarkson, the challenge in 1956 was how to portray the 7-foot-1 University of Kansas center.

"So I was having Wilt dunk the ball, which is what he was most famous for," Clarkson said. "He stopped for a second, and he sat in a folding chair right behind me to retie his shoes. So I moved the chair right out to where I had the lights all set up, and I said, 'Go ahead and continue tying your shoes.' It's spontaneous; it's real. It was beautifully lighted. So, the very first picture I sent to Sports Illustrated, they published kind of big."

Impressive but just the beginning. He was the director of photography for National Geographic magazine from 1985 to 1988.

"You're basically photojournalists, whether it be sports or natives in Africa," Clarkson said. "I mean it's all the same thing."

"The one thing that Rich does, which is magical, is that he really gets into telling a story, a complete story," Sports Illustrated photographer John McDonough said.

McDonough, one of 83 credentialed photographers at this year's Final Four, understands why Clarkson's work is worthy of the gallery exhibit the NCAA is hosting.

The first NCAA championship game Clarkson photographed was in 1952. Clarkson was 20 years old.

He sold his first photograph for 75 cents. Now, a photo goes for around $5,000.

Clarkson shot his first picture in his native Kansas using his mother's box camera. He was one of the first in NCAA history to use a long telephoto lens to shoot the other side of the court. Today, his photographs are published all over the world.

Clarkson shot UCLA's nine consecutive NCAA championships under legendary coach John Wooden.

"He said it was his favorite picture of his entire career," Clarkson said.

Clarkson never had kids or a family; he gave his entire life to his photography.

Likely with a martini in hand, Clarkson retires with the best record in NCAA history because every time this man shoots, it's always a score.

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