CHICAGO (AP) _ Magic Johnson, a consummate competitor, is about to meet his biggest challenge as he fights ignorance to raise public awareness about AIDS, residents of the nation's second-largest AIDS hospice say.

Johnson stunned the nation with the revelation that he has tested positive for the HIV virus and will retire from basketball. He said he will work to help educate others about the disease.

''The fight's not over for Magic. It's just beginning,'' said Michael Durkin, 31, a resident of Bonaventure House. ''He's probably going to work harder now than he ever did on the basketball court.

Residents said Friday they believe Johnson can be a strong voice for AIDS awareness.

''This is a big breakthrough,'' Bobby Esmond said from his wheelchair. ''It's going to help a lot of people - with and without the disease - to understand the disease.''

Hospice residents were eager to talk about Johnson, and were hopeful that he would be able to bring home the reality of AIDS.

''I hope the world learns something from it,'' said Esmond, a nurse forced to leave his profession because of the advanced stage of his illness.

Esmond and other residents of the modest red-brick building said public sensitivity toward AIDS is higher than it once was - but not as high as it should be.

''I remember 10 years ago, people were hysterical'' at the mention of AIDS, said George Rader, a former high school social studies teacher. ''That is changing.''

''I think people are afraid of things until they have some personal experience with it,'' Rader said. ''Magic Johnson will give them some of that.''

''There's still a lot of ignorance out there, though,'' said Durkin. ''The public needs more education, more research, better social understanding.''

And those who have the disease need more and better facilities in which to finish their lives, the men said.

Esmond said he spent months in a nursing home where ''I didn't feel like I fit in,'' before a social worker suggested Bonaventure House as an alternative.

Bonaventure House, a joint venture of the Alexian Brothers and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. With 30 beds, it's the nation's second- largest residential facility for AIDS patients, said director Bob Rybicki. Only Bailey House, in New York, is larger is larger, he said.

Rybicki said he hopes Johnson's infection will make the public more sympathetic toward other AIDS victims.

''Everything that was said about Magic - that he's such a wonderful person, a good role model ... I guess I wish we had that reaction about everybody with AIDS,'' he said.