NEW YORK (AP) _ Magic Johnson has a new game now, and the people already on the team fighting the AIDS epidemic are marveling at how easy it is to score with his superstar assist.

Johnson's announcement last week that he is infected with the AIDS virus and plans to devote his time to AIDS education provided the best shot many groups have ever had at reaching and teaching people.

Hotlines rang off the hook after his announcement. At the Gay Men's Health Crisis, phone calls tripled on Friday, and the volume continued on Monday. The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta logged 40,000 calls in seven hours last Thursday, compared with the usual 3,000 calls a day.

At the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, calls topped 2,000 a day, 10 times the usual number. People wanted to know about testing; about the difference between being infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, and having full-blown AIDS; about how to assess their own risk behaviors - and where to send money.

''All of a sudden, people are asking the questions we've been trying to get them to ask for years,'' said Sedrick Gardner of Outreach, Inc., an Atlanta group that educates the minority community about AIDS and substance abuse.

''Two minutes of Magic Johnson has done more for us than we could have imagined,'' said Vicki Sanford Zepeda of the San Francisco foundation. ''Until Magic Johnson got up and said, 'I'm HIV positive,' many people never realized they were at risk.''

Johnson has the power to raise AIDS awareness to new heights, AIDS educators say. And they all have their own ideas about how he should use that power.

''Even if he aligned himself with a national organization, his appeal goes far beyond that,'' Outreach's Gardner said. ''Just by the diversity of people he reaches, he could be much better used at the community level.''

At that level, advocates hope Johnson will make his message broad enough to appeal to everyone.

''He's been great at countering the attitude that this is just a gay disease or a white disease,'' said Steven Feeback of the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, which educates black and Hispanic men in 30 cities. ''But within his community, the African-American community, gay men are still the hardest hit. I hope he doesn't try to leave out the segment of his own people who are most impacted.''

President Bush has called Johnson a hero, at the same time defending his own AIDS policies, saying, ''I can't say I've done enough. Of course I haven't.''

''He's clearly a hero to people in this country, and I think as an independent agent, he's at his most powerful,'' said Zepeda of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. ''The president needs Magic Johnson a lot more than Magic Johnson needs the president. What everyone else needs is education to understand that everyone is at risk.''

''As long as he's got the ear of George Bush, he needs to demand that the president exert leadership in finding a cure,'' said Ioannis Mookas, a spokesman for ACT UP-New York, a group of outspoken AIDS activists. ''That means doubling the budget, that means lifting his policies of exclusion and discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS.

''I think (Johnson) has taken a bold step,'' he said. ''All he has to do now is follow through on what he's begun.''

Exactly how he does that will be his choice, said Geoffrey Knox of the Gay Men's Health Crisis. But even if Johnson never said another word about HIV or AIDS, he already has had a tremendous impact.

''I think he's broken down the theory there's a 'them' and an 'us' as to who's infected,'' he said. ''He's made it clear that we're all in this together.''