PINE BLUFF, Ark. — The King Cotton Classic – once one of the most elite high school basketball tournaments in the U.S. – has returned to Pine Bluff. And organizers say the revival is about much more than basketball.

Having lived in Pine Bluff since age 6, James Parnell remembers the King Cotton Classic in its prime.

“Oh my gosh, all the stars that have come through here not knowing they would be NBA greats later on,” Parnell recalled Thursday, Dec. 27 while standing in the Pine Bluff Convention Center concourse. “It was one of the hottest tournaments at that time,” he said. 

NBA players like Jason Kidd and Corliss Williamson traveled to Jefferson County during their high school years to play in the tournament, which was founded in 1983. It drew top teams from across the country and was televised on ESPN for several years before ending in 1999.

“When the King Cotton Classic left our community, we missed that,” Pine Bluff resident Kenneth Freeman said.

The end of the King Cotton Classic left a void in the city of Pine Bluff that was left unfilled until Thursday, when the tournament made a rebound of its own.

“The community has stepped up big time to let this event happen,” Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley said.

Eight teams from seven states will compete in the revived King Cotton Holiday Classic – an initiative of Go Forward Pine Bluff. Watley said organizers have high hopes for the tournament.

“We want to have a major economic impact, but we want people to come to Pine Bluff again like days of old,” Watley said. “We want people to see that Pine Bluff has a history, that we can compete with anybody – and that's the goal.”

With thousands expected to attend over the weekend, Watley said organizers are focused on creating a safe and fun environment for all.

“If we have safe, family fun -- people come out and are still talking about the good time they had – that gives us sustainability platform for the next year,” Watley said.

Meanwhile, basketball fans like Parnell also hope this weekend is the slam dunk Pine Bluff needs.

“With things like this it takes steps, It takes time, and this is just one step of many more to come to help bring Pine Bluff where it needs to be,” Watley said.

The King Cotton Holiday Classic continues at the Pine Bluff Convention Center Friday and Saturday. Click here for tournament history, a schedule, and more information.

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