In response, Silver handed down the most severe punishment he could.
Sterling won't be allowed to attend games or practices and will be prevented from making player personnel decisions.
He'll face a $2.5 million fine, the most allowed by the NBA's constitution and bylaws. And Silver said he will urge the league's owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
On Tuesday, the Jazz owner was far from alone in his support of the NBA's reaction.
"I'm ecstatic about the decision," analyst and former Jazz forward Thurl Bailey said.
"For me personally, if it had not been a lifetime ban, it would have fallen short of sending the right message."
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP's Salt Lake branch, said the association was "very satisfied" with the response.
"It was not a slap on the wrist, as some folks thought it might be," she said. "They wanted to make sure they were sending a clear message."
Sterling's history is troubling when it comes to racially charged accusations. He has faced numerous accusations of racial discrimination and civil rights violations in his business dealings.
Silver on Tuesday said the NBA acted swiftly as soon as concrete proof was available.
Jazz point guard John Lucas III, the team's union representative, said he was "stunned" to hear the audio of Sterling's recorded conversation with V. Stiviano.
"It's sad because we've come so far as human beings, accepting each other no matter what the color, what the race," Lucas said. "It's sad someone is still thinking like that today."
Lucas watched as the Clippers discarded their warm-ups and wore their shooting shirts inside out last week, hiding the Clippers logo in protest. But the 31-year-old veteran wanted something stronger.
"I don't think I would have played," he said. "I honestly think I would have skipped the game. I wouldn't want to let my teammates down, but sometimes you've just got to take a stand. You look at Muhammad Ali. He took a stand and it changed a lot. … You have to have pride for who you are and your culture and for what you represent.
"To me, I think that's bigger than basketball."
On Tuesday, Silver was unequivocal in his disapproval of Sterling's "hateful opinions," which the commissioner called "deeply offensive and harmful."
"That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage," he said.
Just months into his tenure as commissioner, Tuesday was far and away Silver's biggest moment.
"I felt like this was going to be a big test for Adam Silver. He put his foot down and he was firm with his decision," Lucas said, adding that he expects the league's owners to support the ouster. "Teams don't want this in our league. They don't want this to even part of the NBA name."
The Salt Lake Tribune's Steve Luhm contributed to the reporting of this story.