Silver also said he would urge NBA owners and the board of governors to force Sterling to sell the team.
"I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA," Silver said.
Most had expected a large fine and suspension to be handed to Sterling after he allegedly made controversial remarks about blacks that created widespread outrage.
The NBA's bylaws allow for owners to be expelled from the league, though that power is reserved for limited circumstances, such as the inability to operate financially, gambling on league games or fixing games.
The more likely route, which Silver took, lay within Article 35 of the NBA Constitution, which allows the commissioner to indefinitely suspend owners for "conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the association."
All of this has happened with the team preparing for Tuesday night's Game 5 of its best-of-seven playoff series against Golden State; the series is tied, 2-2