Why don't you dodge this battle like you did Vietnam?
(Ali avoided being drafted into the Vietnam War, which stripped him of all of his boxing titles. He then took his case through the Supreme Court, which verified his status as a "conscientious objector" as he became a Muslim. A CO can legally opt out of the draft if certain other obligations forbid him from entering. Jordan suggests that Ali should avoid battling him as he did being drafted into military service.)
'Cause you've got as much chance of beating me as LeBron!
(Like Jordan, LeBron James is a celebrated NBA player, joining the NBA months after Jordan left. It is generally accepted that there would be no predictable winner if James and Jordan went head-to-head. Similarly, Jordan thinks Ali has no chance of beating him in the battle.)
I'm a flying machine, like the world has never seen!
(Throughout much of his career, Jordan was as much a showman as a basketball player. He was noted for making many leaps across the court, often while making scoring plays; this earned him the name "Air Jordan". It has been said that he flew through the air as he played.)
You can fight one man? I can drive through a whole team!
(In confrontational sports like basketball, to drive is "to move quickly and/or forcefully down or along", usually for the purpose of scoring on the opposition. It is said that Jordan could beat a whole team on his own, basketball being a team sport. By contrast, boxing is one-on-one.)
I choke a dope with his own jump rope!
(Jordan will choke his opponent with a jump rope, commonly used for exercise during a boxer's training, to shut him up. Jordan alludes to Ali's "Rope-A-Dope", where he just sat on the ring edge waiting out his opponents' fatigue before delivering an explosive counterattack.)
You'll get smoked when I flow, you Kentucky Fried joke!
(When Jordan delivers his rhymes, Ali will be "smoked" like a chicken. Getting smoked is another way of saying getting burned, or being greatly insulted, and may also be an allusion to "Smoking" Joe Frazier, Ali's boxing nemesis, who defeated Ali in their first bout. Ali's hometown is Louisville, Kentucky, and the state of Kentucky is known for Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC, which has become a stereotype meal for African-Americans. Jordan calls Ali out as a joke, replacing chicken with joke.)
Used to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,
(Ali's famous quote before his battle versus Sonny Liston was "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.")
Now you double dribble balls that nobody can see!
(In basketball, double dribbling is a turnover. Jordan makes a reference to Ali's Parkinson's disease because Ali's tremors make him look like he dribbles invisible basketballs.)
(Jordan would often stick out his tongue when jumping in the air to perform a dunk. Ali is not intimidated in the least by Jordan's trash-talk, passing it off as if Jordan's tongue is wobbling for no reason. This may also be a reference to the movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which is about a boxer.)
Flying through the air like a big dumb goblin!
(A person "flies" through the air as they do a slam dunk, and Jordan looks dumb when doing this. Ali then compares Jordan to a mythical goblin, usually depicted with its tongue sticking out of its grotesque face.)
You're the only Bull that's uglier than Rodman!
(Throughout most of his career, Jordan was a member of the Chicago Bulls: a basketball team that also has Dennis Rodman, whom Ali thinks is not as ugly compared to Jordan. Rodman is known for his excessive amount of facial piercings, tattoos, and wild choices in hair color, all of which make him physically unattractive. Moreover, Ali was also known to taunt his upcoming opponents by calling them ugly – calling Sonny Liston a big, ugly bear, saying Floyd Patterson is too ugly to be champ, etc.)
Messing with me is gambling: you got a problem!
(Jordan lost $57,000 gambling in 1993 and apparently lost $1.25M in a bet while golfing, showing that he has a gambling problem. To rap against Ali, he says, is a big gamble, and one Jordan is likely to lose just as he lost all that money.)
Your whole basketball career turned whack
(Jordan entered his first of two retirements from the NBA in 1999, but he made a comeback in 2003 as a member of the Washington Wizards. However, his performance for the team fell well short of that achieved in his Chicago Bulls years.)
When you came back a Wizard like Gandalf the Black!
(Ali makes an immediate reference to the above return from retirement. Gandalf is a wizard from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth fantasy novels. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, he died as Gandalf the Grey, but he made a "comeback" as Gandalf the White and gained greater ability. Since Jordan was African-American, Ali says he is Gandalf the Black. Also, in Tolkien's Middle-earth works, a wizard with the title "The White" is at the most powerful state possible, as demonstrated when Gandalf came back to life. The reverse could be theorized: becoming Gandalf the Black would have meant he came back weaker than before, similar to how Jordan came back from retirement only to perform worse than he did pre-retirement.)
You should've kept your ugly sneakers packed up on a shelf.
(Ali says that Jordan should not have come back to the NBA and should have stayed retired. This line also mentions Nike's "Air Jordan" basketball shoes, which Ali considers ugly.)
Stick to golf: you can keep the ball to yourself!
(During Jordan's tenure with the Chicago Bulls, coach Phil Jackson's game plan was to simply give the ball to him on the assumption that he would make a scoring play, often unassisted. Based on this, Ali implicitly calls Jordan selfish and says he should just stick to a sport like golf, where he can keep the ball to himself. This is also another reference to Jordan's bad golfing bet.)
(Ooh!) I'm so pretty; my hands are so fast!
(In Ali's "I'm the Greatest" speech, he says, "I am the greatest! I'm young; I'm handsome; I'm fast. I can't possibly be beat." It would be hard to stay pretty if you're a boxer since you're taking hits to the face; hence, Ali states he is very good at fighting. This line is also a reference to how fast a boxer's hands are.)
I'll whup your face back to your Hitler mustache!
(Jordan had, at one point, a mustache which had been shaved to a similar style as Adolf Hitler's. It was shaved off shortly afterwards, but Ali says he would punch Jordan's face hard enough to have an unappealing feature on him.)
Now your daddy got killed and I feel for your family,
(Jordan's father, James R. Jordan, Sr., was tragically murdered by two criminals in 1993. Ali states he feels sympathetic for the event.)
But your baseball career: now that was a tragedy!
(After Jordan's father's death in 1993, Jordan retired from the NBA for the first time and joined a total of two Minor League Baseball teams until he rejoined the NBA. During this time, Jordan had a batting average of around .225 and a total of only 3 home runs, which is often considered middling by baseball standards. Against his NBA career, Jordan's numbers in baseball seem tragic. He couldn't hit a curve ball, which is why he didn't make it to the Majors. After his failed baseball career, Jordan went back to the NBA. It was also his father's earlier wish that Jordan would play baseball. Ali simply states the obvious here, to egg Jordan on that his attempts to play baseball were more tragic than the death of his father.)
Man, you make me sick, but I'm better with the flu!
(The day before Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, Jordan awoke with a stomach virus or food poisoning, and the Bulls' team doctor said that there was no way he could play the next day. Jordan did play and scored 38 points, along with grabbing 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals as he led the Bulls to victory. This game was known as "The Flu Game". Jordan uses this in the context that Ali bringing up his father's death would make him fall ill, but he says that getting sick would just give him an advantage like the aforementioned game.)
You should let the Fresh Prince do your rapping for you! (Swish!)
(The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a popular TV show starring Will Smith. The fifth version of the Air Jordans (Jordan's shoes made by Nike) were inspired by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Jordan says that he is a fresh rapper, meaning that he is very good. Also, Will Smith, known as the Fresh Prince in his rapping days, played Muhammad Ali in the film Ali, receiving an Oscar nomination. The "swish" onomatopoeia shows that the basketball is shot and goes through the hoop without touching the rim and flies through the net.)
I would pass the mic to Pippen, but I'm not done scoring!
(Another allusion to how Jordan rarely passed the ball to his teammates, the ball here being the mic. Jordan and Chicago Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen were an unstoppable pair during the Bulls' six championship runs, with the two men frequently passing the ball between themselves to make plays. They were the duo to beat in all the NBA. Here, Jordan would pass control of the battle to Pippen, but Jordan is not yet done trashing Ali.)
Stay all up in your grill like my name was George Foreman!
("To get up in one's grill" is a slang term for meeting face to face in the most literal sense. George Foreman, a boxer beaten by Ali, markets a grease-draining portable grill under his own name. When fighting for the heavyweight championship, Foreman spent almost the entire time being close and face-to-face with Ali. After Ali's next verse, Jordan actually does get up in Ali's face.)
I saw you slapping Reggie Miller. Boy, what's wrong with you?
(This line refers to Jordan's fisticuffs with Reggie Miller. Miller attacked Jordan unprovoked during a Bulls-Pacers match, to which Jordan retaliated. Both teams engaged in an all-out fight following their stars' lead.)
You fight like the little girls who make your Nike shoes!
(Ali calls out Nike for using sweatshop labor and using little girls as the source of said labor, along with insulting Jordan by saying that he fights like a little girl.)
McDonald's and underpants as corporate backers,
(Even post-retirement, Jordan still holds endorsement deals with McDonald's restaurants and Hanes underwear.)
You stay at the Ritz 'cause you sold out to crackers!
(Ritz is a brand of cracker marketed by Kraft Food. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company owns several high-profile hotels. Jordan was once seen playing beer pong at a Ritz. Cracker is a racial slur for a white person, so Ali says Jordan leads a charmed life because he betrayed the black people and sold out to white people, and now he stays at their hotels.)
So Cassius wants to talk about cashing checks.
(While boxing under his given name of Cassius Clay, Ali signed a contract with a $10k bonus, which he used to buy his mother a coveted pink Cadillac. Ali was also paid $10M for his fight with George Foreman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire), known as "The Rumble in the Jungle". Jordan sees a case of the pot calling the kettle black, or hypocrisy.)
I'll school you through your bug spray, off your Broadway play, over the Japanese dude sitting on your face!
(A reference to the friendly duels Jordan often acted out with rival Larry Bird in various television spots. The two would trade obstacles for the ball to hit before actually passing through the basket. These duels became a running gag and a template for similar duels between more current players. Ali's "bug spray" was a rather humorous commercial for a d-CON roach fogger. Ali also briefly starred in the Broadway play, Buck White. The "Japanese dude" refers to Antonio Inoki, a Japanese professional wrestler who faced Ali in a "boxer vs wrestler" bout with extremely unorthodox rules.)
Hit nothing but net! You ain't seen nothing yet!
(Continuation: the aforementioned duels would end each line with "nothing but net", meaning that the ball would sink through the hoop without hitting the rim. Ali has yet to hear the end of Jordan's disses on him.)
Man, you needed a movement 'cause you're so full of shit!
(Ali needs to have a bowel movement—or take a dump—to get rid of the crap that he is full of. It might also refer to the Muhammad Ali Movement Disorders Clinic, a recognized top center for treatment of movement disorders, or the fact that Ali was a Civil Rights Movement activist.)
I'm a better athlete and a better MC!
(Jordan was named the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century by ESPN. Ali was third, behind Jordan and Babe Ruth. Jordan states that not only is he more talented at his sport than Ali is, but he also is better at rapping than he is.)
Battle me two more times, watch me get a three-peat!
(Jordan is confident that if Ali were to face him twice after this battle, he would win both of those fights as he seems to be winning this one, making a three-peat. The Bulls secured a 3-time NBA championship (1991-3) and a second instance three years later (1996-8) with the help of Jordan. It also doubles as a reference to boxing, wherein three knockdowns is a Technical Knock Out, or TKO.)
Beep beep! Why don't you back up that trash?
(Ali thinks Jordan exaggerated his credentials, so he wants Jordan to either prove it or go back and rethink what he had said, both being ways to "back it up". Large vehicles like garbage haulers are required to make a noise when they back up. In America, this is often a slowed "beep". The beep could also imitate the bell-ringing that signals a new round at a boxing match.)
I'll leave you like Liston: flat on your ass!
(In 1965, Ali had his second of two bouts with Sonny Liston. During the fight, he had successfully knocked Liston down on his back, prancing around the ring in victory. Liston actually threw this fight having injured his shoulder, but he would not concede that Ali was the better fighter. Ali says that he'll knock Jordan down as he did with Liston and win the battle.)
You need to bounce back to North Carolina, kid,
(Jordan was raised in North Carolina. He also played his college ball in Chapel Hill, NC as a Tar Heel and was drafted to the Bulls in 1984 after playing in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics. However, Ali thinks Jordan should just return home.)
'Cause your rapping sucks more than Space Jam did!
(Jordan was the star of Space Jam, a basketball movie featuring the Looney Tunes cast. The movie was met with mixed reception due to Jordan's lack of skill as an actor. If not for the cartoons and support from veteran actors including Danny DeVito, Bill Murray, and Wayne Knight, the film would have bombed. Ali says that while the movie was terrible, Jordan's rapping is worse.)