Sterling cannot attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers office or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the decision during a press conference Tuesday. He also said Sterling would be fined $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under the NBA constitution, and he will try to force a sale of the Clippers. Silver will need 75 percent of the owners to force Sterling out of the league completely.
The sanctions are effective immediately. It was Silver's first big test since becoming commissioner in February, and he moved swiftly and decisively.
"This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family," Silver said. "I appreciate the support and understanding of our players during this process."
The longtime Clippers owner urged his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not to bring black people to Clippers games or to post photos of herself with black friends on her Instagram account. The comments were made in a recorded conversation released to TMZ and Deadspin over the weekend. According to Silver, Sterling acknowledged he was the man on the tape.
In the recording, Sterling was angry about a photo his girlfriend took with basketball legend Magic Johnson. On Tuesday, Silver personally apologized to Johnson.
"The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage," Silver said.
Stiviano's lawyer said that his client was "very saddened" by the NBA's decision and that she "never wanted any harm to Donald." Attorney Mac Nehoray says Stiviano never had a sexual relationship with Sterling and she was not the one who released the recording. He says numerous media reports and a lawsuit filed by Sterling's wife calling Stiviano Sterling's mistress are simply not true.
Making a bizarre public appearance Tuesday evening, Stiviano, who covered her face with a sun visor, told reporters she wants to become president of the United States one day and "change the Legislature." Other than that, she did not want to make any comments about the Sterling scandal.
Meantime, Silver's announcement was met with great support. The Clippers immediately issued a statement that said, "We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins."
Johnson tweeted, "Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life."
City leaders, along with current and former basketball legends, gathered at City Hall to express their support of Silver's decision.
"His actions and focus were so on the mark. It was unbelievable. You should have heard us when we were listening to the press conference. We all started clapping because he handled it the right way," said Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In an exclusive SurveyUSA News Poll, 58 percent of L.A.-area adults said the lifetime ban from basketball was "just about right," while 28 percent said it was too harsh. Thirteen percent said the punishment was too lenient.
On the $2.5 million fine, 47 percent said the fine was "just about right," 31 percent found it too lenient and 21 percent said it was too harsh. On removing Sterling as team owner, 66 percent agreed with the move, 21 percent called it too harsh and 12 percent said it was too lenient.
The scandal has overshadowed what has been a thrilling start to the playoffs. But hours after Silver's announcement, the Clippers returned to an energized Staples Center Tuesday night and beat the Golden State Warriors 113-103 in Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round series.
"(Silver) made the decision that really was the right one that had to be made," Doc Rivers, the Clippers' head coach and vice president of basketball operations, said at a press conference before the game. "I don't think this is something that we rejoice in or anything like that. I told the players about the decision, and I think they were just happy there was a resolution and that it's over, at least the start of it. I think we're all in a better place because of this."
Recording artist Tank was scheduled to sing the national anthem, but he canceled in protest.
"Making a decision like this for me was definitely a sacrifice, and it's one that I didn't take lightly," he said. "I'm sure about my decision. I don't want to sing."
On Monday night, the Miami Heat mimicked the Clippers warm-up statement by throwing their team-issued warm-up gear on center court and wearing their shooting shirts inside out.
Several companies have ended or suspended their sponsorships with the Los Angeles Clippers Monday, including CarMax, State Farm, Kia Motors, Aqua Hydrate, Virgin America, Southern California Ford Dealers and Red Bull. More companies are expected to follow suit.
UCLA is rejecting a recent $3 million pledge from Sterling. He had pledged the money to support basic kidney research at the school's Division of Nephrology. The university said in a statement that it is clear Sterling "does not share UCLA's core values as a public university that fosters diversity, inclusion and respect."
The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.