Unlike most of us, Sterling doesn't have a daily job to which he has to attend. His job is that of real estate developer and basketball owner. But just because he owns things doesn't mean that basic rules of decency and civility should not apply.
An employee who works in any type of professional environment could not say what Sterling said without paying a consequence in the form of losing a job. Think about it. If any CEO in America made similar statements, they would be fired. Not just for the racist nature of the statements but also for the stupidity of them.
How could a boss expect his employees to co-exist in an environment with such an obtuse, ignorant and malicious individual? They couldn't and they wouldn't. If an employee said something similar to Sterling's comments they would be terminated from their job and everyone would understand. Case closed and that's what NBA commissioner Adam Silver did.
I think also he took into account Sterling's appalling record (as a human being not just the worst owner in sports) and decided his firm (the NBA) could not allow its brand to continue to be associated with such a low-life. Look at the way Sterling treated his wife? If you really want to see the kind of character he has check out the SmokingGun's feature on his "dirty" deposition. The guy needs to crawl back underneath the rock from which he lives and get out of the public eye. He's past the point of redemption and there's nothing I can see about the way he lives his life that is inspiring or uplifting. The exact opposite.
Some might say that we are creating a dangerous precedent by coming down so hard on Sterling, but I would disagree. He said something stupid and racist. There really is no place for that in a civilized society or in any kind of a functional workplace. Especially from an owner. Leadership comes from the top, right? As a result, people as fortunate as Sterling should be held to a higher standard.
He's not going to jail, he's not being stripped of his wealth, and he's not being run out of Los Angeles. He's just losing the privilege of being allowed to associate with the NBA. It's the same punishment anyone else would likely get for such racist statements, except we would be terminated as employees and in his case, since he's the owner, he's being banned.
What a sad, but poetic ending based upon the life Sterling could have led if he had used his power and influence to improve the world instead of having such a craven, hedonistic, and prejudiced approach to life.