The league announced its decision a few hours before the Clippers faced the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.
On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for racist comments made on an audio recording, fined him $2.5 million and urged league owners to force him to sell the team.
"The best way to ensure the stability of the team during this difficult situation is to move quickly and install a CEO to oversee the Clippers organization,'' Mike Bass, the NBA executive vice president of communications, said in a statement. “The process of identifying that individual is underway.''
The decision was welcomed by Sterling's long-estranged wife, Rochelle, who said she was fully committed to making the Clippers the best team in the NBA.
"I spoke with Commissioner Adam Silver this week to tell him that I fully supported his recent swift and decisive action,'' said Rochelle Sterling, who was expected to attend Game 7.
"We also agreed at that time that, as a next step, both the league and the team should work together to find some fresh, accomplished executive leadership for the Clippers. I welcome his active involvement in the search for a person of the utmost character, proven excellence and a commitment to promoting equality and inclusiveness.''
A forced sale would require approval of three-fourths of the league's owners. The NBA's 10-member finance/advisory committee held a conference call Thursday, agreeing to move forward quickly on the potential sale.
Sterling hasn't said whether he will fight the league in court.
Clippers President Andy Roeser has been the franchise's most prominent executive in recent years, but Roeser upset many team employees last weekend when he released a statement questioning whether the incriminating recordings of Sterling were legitimate.
Roeser's statement seemed too sympathetic to Sterling for many outraged employees, with apologetic words about the 80-year-old owner alongside criticism of V. Stiviano, the other voice on the recordings.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers spent Friday morning speaking with upset employees who felt further betrayed by Roeser's statement. Rivers also serves as the Clippers' senior vice president of basketball operations.
Rivers wasn't fazed by the timing of the league's latest decision shortly before the Clippers' biggest game of the season.
"We've got to talk about everything else, so let's talk about that, too,'' Rivers said. "The NBA has to do their job, they really do. They have a lot on their plate as well, and I don't think it's something they can wait on. They're going to do their job.''
Rivers said he hadn't yet been consulted by the league on the specifics of its CEO search, although he is in regular contact with Silver.
The NBA has made similar moves in the past. The league appointed Jack Sperling to supervise the New Orleans Hornets during the 2011-12 season after taking over financial operation of the team from owner George Shinn.
The Clippers have already begun their transition away from the last 33 years under Sterling, the NBA's longest-tenured owner.
When the players went back to work at practice Friday, Sterling-related memorabilia had been removed from the trophy case in a public hallway at their palatial $60 million training complex built by Sterling six years ago. Even the “Sterling Drive'' sign outside the Playa Vista facility had been taken down.
If the NBA is able to force the Clippers' sale, the team is certain to be pursued by many wealthy buyers.
Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison immediately expressed interest in a joint bid, while Magic Johnson's ownership group with the Los Angeles Dodgers also is likely to be interested.