Alves played 226 games for the Melbourne Football Club in the 1970s, captaining them from 1973–1976 and finishing runner-up for the Brownlow Medal in 1975, before joining North Melbourne in 1977. Legend has it that he chose to play for North Melbourne rather than Collingwood based on a coin toss. It proved to be a wise decision as North Melbourne met Collingwood in the 1977 Grand Final and, after initially playing a 76-all draw, won the replay 151–124.
Alves played 40 games for North Melbourne before retiring.
Alves went on to coach St Kilda to its second minor premiership and first grand final in 26 years in 1997, earning the AFL Coach of the Year award. His coaching career at St Kilda concluded at the end of the 1998 season.
On 24 October 2000, Alves was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his contribution to Australian football. On 26 January 2008, Alves was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for "service to Australian Rules football as a player, coach and commentator, and to the community as a supporter of charitable organisations".