Dallas Cowboys Fans Nearly Complained About Los Angeles Lakers Owner Jerry Buss Instead of Jerry Jones

In the plethora of alternate universes, one where Jerry Jones didn’t own the Dallas Cowboys might sound perfect to the long-tortured fans of America’s Team.

Just for fun, let’s rub a bit more salt in those open wounds. It once appeared that Jerry Buss, the longtime governor of the Los Angeles Lakers, would purchase the Cowboys and turn them into one of the league’s model franchises. What might have happened had it been Buss, and not Jones, who led the Cowboys into the 1990s and beyond?

Jerry Buss hoped to buy the Dallas Cowboys instead of Jerry Jones

Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss (L) in 2008 and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in 2021.
Dallas Cowboys fans nearly dealt with longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss (L) instead of Jerry Jones | Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images; Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

This story starts in 1988 when longtime Dallas Cowboys owner Bum Bright put the team up for sale. Bright bought the Cowboys in 1984 but suffered personal financial losses in that span and eventually put the team up for sale.

As we now know, Jerry Jones — a former Arkansas football player who built a considerable fortune in the oil industry — purchased the team in February 1989. Although the Cowboys won three Super Bowl titles in Jones’ first seven seasons, the team has not made it back to the NFC Championship Game since 1996.

However, another major sports figure also had the Cowboys on his radar. According to The Washington Post, Jerry Buss, the Lakers’ governor since 1979, publicly revealed his interest in buying the NFL franchise in October 1988.

“I’m in the midst of a business deal which will probably provide me with enough capital to buy a team. …. For some time, I have been interested in buying a football team.”

Jerry Buss

Buss, who owned 95% of the Lakers, faced one significant obstacle, however. At the time, the NFL prohibited owners from having stakes in two professional sports franchises. However, he believed he would be in the clear if he turned control of the Lakers over to his children.

The modern Cowboys would look much different had the Buss family taken over

According to the Los Angeles Times, Bright received four offers to buy the Cowboys as of February 1989. At the time, Buss was considered among those expected to join the bidding. Things never got that serious, and Jones bought the Cowboys for $140 million on Feb. 25, 1989.

One can only wonder what would have happened if the Buss family bought the Cowboys. Jones has long been an eccentric owner who relied on his gut to make personnel decisions. This trait led to head coach Jimmy Johnson’s departure and almost brought Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel to AT&T Stadium, among other moments that Cowboys fans would prefer we not list.

The idea of not having the Jones family in charge might appeal to Cowboys fans who are tired of the current regime. However, no one knows if the Cowboys would have made the same personnel moves, including drafting running back Emmitt Smith in 1990 and letting young quarterback Troy Aikman ride out a rough rookie season, if Jones didn’t run the show. Without those two offensive stars, the Cowboys likely would not have won Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.

Jones also fought to make the league earn more money each year. It is impossible to know what the NFL’s TV deals would have looked like with Buss at the negotiating table instead of Jones, who brought Fox into the mix in the mid-1990s as the NFC’s primary broadcaster.

There is also no guarantee that the Buss family would still own both the Cowboys and Lakers right now. Jerry died in February 2013 and his daughter, Jeanie, officially took over as the Lakers’ governor and team representative. Each of his six children received an equal vote through a trust. Things might have been more complicated if the family had two teams to sort out.

Two-sport owners are fairly frequent in the current sports world

Among the more interesting parts of this story is that the NFL had a rule against two-sport owners. Meanwhile, the exact opposite is true now, both in the NFL and professional sports as a whole.

Consider these names as a reminder of how much things have changed over the years:

  • Stan Kroenke owns Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Rams, and Arsenal F.C., among several other professional sports franchises.
  • Arthur Blank owns the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United, an MLS franchise.
  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes holds ownership stakes in the Kansas City Royals and Sporting Kansas City, an MLS team.
  • In a non-football example, Jerry Reinsdorf has owned the Chicago Bulls and White Sox since the 1980s.

Perhaps an alternate universe exists where Buss joined that club and owned the Cowboys. But considering how relatively successful the Cowboys have been since 1989, maybe the Jones era in Dallas hasn’t been so bad after all.

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