Every successful sporting club has its heroes.
There's the star players, the coach that pulls the strings and the administrators who run the day-to-day operations.
Then there's the Stephen Kelly's of the world.
No glitz, no glamour, but a selfless, team-first attitude that drives the culture of any organisation.
For four decades that's what Stephen Kelly meant to the Bendigo Braves.
"Kels" as he was best known, passed away last week on his 59th birthday after a battle with illness.
His sad loss leaves a hole in the lives of his wife Sue, daughter Jade, his extended family and his mates.
For Kelly's Bendigo Braves team-mates, life won't quite be the same without him.
His 242-game career with the Braves, included the historic first SEABL championship victory in 1988.
"Kels was always a fan favourite,'' team-mate and business partner Mick Spear said.
"Everyone liked what he did on the court because he was so athletic and he'd do anything for the team.
"Off the court, Steve was a doer. He made sure things would get done for the club. Not for his benefit, but for the club's benefit.
"He was the ultimate clubman,'' Braves' great Justin Cass added.
"Nothing ever phased Kels. If there was ever disharmony in the club - on or off the court - he'd be the one who'd smooth it over.
"He was all about the club and what was best for the club. It meant so much to him."
Kelly was one of the first players to meet David Flint when he arrived in Bendigo as the Braves' player-coach in 1987.
Their first training session together was at the YMCA court in Mundy Street and Kels had an immediate impact on Flint with his speed and athleticism.
"Throughout the years his positive impact on myself and the team was unmeasurable, he knew what was needed and you knew what Kels would bring every day,'' Flint said.
"His laid back nature, along with his tremendous competitive instincts, coupled with his will to win, was exactly what we needed and those traits very much complimented the rest of the playing group."
Flint's arrival was the beginning of a golden era for the Braves as the group put Bendigo basketball on the map.
Kelly was instrumental to that success. On the court, he played his role as a guard, and off the court he was the glue that kept everyone together.
He captained the Braves and, fittingly, had his number eight singlet retired by the club.
"I reckon he retired about three times before he finally stopped playing,'' Spear said with a chuckle.
"Kels loved it that much."
Kelly was a fine junior athlete and he played football, but his sporting passion was basketball.
He worked alongside Spear and Cass at Bendigo Cedar Sales for more than two decades, but he also had a sport uniform business where, amongst other things, he'd create and supply basketball uniforms.
"He said it was a hobby, but it turned out to be a big hobby,'' Cass said.
"He'd work all day at Cedar Sales and then go home and work on the uniforms. Sometimes he wouldn't finish until 1am.
"He worked more than he should have, but he never whinged about it. It was what he did."
Helping out with junior basketball was one of Kelly's great loves.
School teams, club basketball or junior Braves squads - Kelly did his best to assist.
"I was coaching a Bendigo Braves under-14 team that qualified for the national championships,'' Spear said.
"We had to raise money to go to the event. Kels was the first to ring me and he said 'leave it with me, I'll organise you a golf day'.
"He raised us $4500 in one day - that was half of the money we needed for the girls to go.
"He did all the work for it and then paid for himself to play in the golf day as well.
"That was just him. He'd do anything to help out. He was a very good operator."
He wasn't one to gloat, but Kelly was also a very good operator when it came to multiple sports.
Aside from basketball, athletics and footy, he was a good golfer and tried his hand at cricket.
"He was one of those people that really annoy you because he was good at everything,'' Spear joked.
About eight years ago, Kelly decided to return to athletics and entered a couple of high jump events at national Masters Games.
"He did no training and all his rivals had been doing high jump for years,'' Spear said.
"Kels lines up in a pair of footy shorts and runners and he said to one of the other competitors "where do we go for a smoke?".
"The other bloke couldn't believe it. Then Kels got up and beat them all.
"He went to events in Perth and Geelong and came home with gold medals."
Cass, Spear and Flint will miss Kels and his banter at work, messages about Melbourne's struggles in the AFL and the catch-ups for a beer to talk about the old Braves days.
They'll cherish forever the memories of a great friend and team-mate.
"Kels was a true friend and a great person, his passing has created an irreplaceable void in the Bendigo Braves fraternity,'' Flint said.
"He was the one that always put the team first and kept all of us together throughout the last 30 years, I cannot thank him enough for that.
"I will miss seeing him and hearing the two words that he always greeted me with no matter where we were "g'day mate".
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