Battle of the Bennetts: Two icons, one name

March Madness is upon us, but which Tony Bennett deserves the most praise?


 One man is a music legend. The other, a basketball icon. Who will come out on top?

Lauren Mohan | Cavalier Daily

As basketball fans eagerly await the Cavalier’s first game in the NCAA Tournament this Friday, the Arts and Entertainment editors found themselves in a mild tiff — who was superior, legendary American singer Tony Bennett, or heralded, handsome Virginia Basketball coach Tony Bennett? We decided to duke it out the only way we know how — politely exchanging our thoughts and publishing them so the University, Charlottesville, the world and the gods could be the judge. Read our discourse below.       

Kate Granruth: The first five Google Search autofill suggestions that appear when the name “Tony Bennett” is typed into the search bar are all related to the head coach of the U.Va. Basketball team. From the simple “Tony Bennett U.Va.” search to the more intrusive “Tony Bennett salary” and “Tony Bennett U.Va. wife,” the searches indicate that the general public is gripped by getting closer to the elusive, decorated head coach of the Cavaliers men’s basketball team. But something is missing from these searches — rather, someone is missing. That someone is iconic musician and legendary recording artist Tony Bennett, whose decades of contributions to the worlds of art and music — not to mention his near-infinite awards and accolades — make him the superior Tony Bennett. 

Robin Schwartzkopf: I hear you on the suggestions — it’s true that many people in the world, basketball fans and casual viewers alike, are turning to Google at this point in history to discover facts about the elusive coach of Virginia basketball. But what you failed to mention are the results of a simple name search — hit ‘enter’ on your keyboard, and the first thing you see are articles about the legendary jazz singer, not the beautiful former Charlotte Hornet. This leads to one of my central points in favor of TB the coach, and that is timeliness.

In the year of our lord 2019, jazzy Bennett is old news. Literally old, he’s 92. Tony is relevant here and now. He’s wearing suits without ties this season, and people are intrigued. There’s no way thousands of people are wondering what kind of sandwich old TB is eating or whatever when young, honorable TB is fresh off his fourth win as ACC Coach of the Year.   

KG: O.K., but the fact that he’s old is exactly why he’s so impressive. He’s 92, and he’s still touring — he’s literally on tour right now. Tony Bennett earned his first number one album on the Billboard 200 in 2011 when he was 85 years old. Then, he did it again on his album with Lady Gaga in 2014. Will basketball Bennett be winning ACC Coach of the Year at 85? Or climbing up ladders to cut down the championship net when he’s 92? I don’t think so. Sure, he’s relevant now, and perhaps an icon in his own right, but Tony Bennett as a performer is practically invincible. Plus, four coaching wins is great, but 18 Grammy wins and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award is better. And if we’re talking timelessness, Bennett has been performing since he was ten years old, when he sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge in New York in 1936, a now legendary feature of the New York City skyline. 

Speaking of legendary features, let’s compare Tony and Tony in terms of encounters with fellow icons. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have been inseparable since the release of their jazz album “Cheek to Cheek” in 2014. In the music video for their cover of “The Lady is a Tramp,” Lady Gaga kisses him on the cheek. Do you think basketball Bennett has been in the presence of the game-changing, history-making Lady Gaga? 

Plus, Amy Winehouse’s final recording ever before her untimely passing in 2011 was with Tony Bennett, as she was featured on his “Duets II” album. The list of musical icons Bennett’s worked with goes on, but I’ll wrap up by saying that Tony Bennett attended and performed at the re-election and inauguration of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi earlier in the year. The first and only woman Speaker — and the first Speaker to reclaim the gavel — are longtime friends. Can the Cavalier coach say the same?

RS: You can’t tell me “Cheek to Cheek” is legendary because of the man behind it. No disrespect to Bennett, but Gaga can elevate anyone she’s with — see “A Star is Born” and Bradley Cooper’s mumblecore Sam Elliott impression for more evidence. At least Cooper can shred. 

As far as collabs, Tony the coach has something better — true mentorship and relationships established with the players he’s coached. From student athletes who have gone on to play in the NBA — Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson, Joe Harris — to players who just love the game and the man himself. 

“[Bennett] always tells us to keep digging,” junior forward Mamadi Diakite said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “Keep working hard. Even if it doesn’t work, keep sticking to what you know how to do, and one day, your time will come.”

You may be right that Tony Bennett, five-pillar prophet and coach extraordinaire, likely will not win a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. But his reputation as a coach may well last longer than Bennett the singer’s legendary status in his field. His commitment to humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness are values he passes to his players and to fans of the game. Tony Bennett the singer has the Grammy gold, but Tony Bennett the coach has something better — a community built on respect and honor, on the court and off it.  

Plus, he was in a Brixx pizza mailer that my roommates and I proudly display in our home. So there’s that.   

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